Driving the Clean Energy Movement

In 2015, Americans drove enough to travel to Pluto and back again 337 times. According to the Department of Transportation, Americans’ driving last year jumped 3.5 percent over 2014 distances. This is the largest increase in driving in more than a decade. In each month since March 2014, there’s been an increase in miles traveled over the previous year. This past December, Americans drove more than in any other previous month in history, when adjusted for seasonal variations. This increase in driving shows no signs of slowing down. So far, both travel and gasoline consumption are up again in 2016.

With every uptick of our odometers, we spew more and more dirty emissions into our air. Passenger cars drive our oil consumption (and much of our carbon pollution), accounting for about 47 percent of all the oil we burn in the United States. Currently, transportation overall is responsible for more than a third of our nation's greenhouse gas pollution. Emissions from the sector increased nearly 17 percent from 1990 to 2014, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reflecting a 37 percent rise in miles driven. This means more air pollution, airborne allergens, extreme weather events, bad air days, asthma attacks, and lung cancer.

Fortunately, together with the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's clean car standards, agreed to by automakers and the EPA in 2012, are the most ambitious step the United States has ever taken to reduce carbon and other types of air pollution. By raising average fuel economy of passenger cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, these standards will significantly reduce oil use and cut dangerous climate pollution by as much as 6 billion metric tons by 2025—the equivalent to carbon pollution from 150 typical coal-fired power plants for an entire year. That's more than the total carbon emissions from the United States in 2010. Along with climate pollution, these standards also cut back on the other dangerous pollutants like toxics, smog, and soot that come out of our cars’ tailpipes.

The benefits of these standards aren’t just environmental; they are economical. These standards can save American families. $1.7 trillion in fuel costs.

When the standards were proposed in 2009, automakers stood with the President and agreed that the standards were realistic and achievable. But now, with the joint technical assessment report (TAR) from the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rapidly approaching, some automakers are changing their tone. Falsely claiming the standards are too difficult to reach, some automakers want to jeopardize carbon and other air pollution reductions by weakening these standards and widening loopholes. The TAR is the first step in the midterm review process that will guide the creation of the 2022-2025 fuel efficiency standards. For decades, auto companies have cut corners in attempts to game the system -- just look at Volkswagen’s diesel-emissions scandal as the latest example. Despite Volkswagen’s actions and automakers' complaints, fuel efficiency standards are reachable and working.  

Vehicle efficiency standards are already making a difference. From minivans to sedans to pickup trucks, fuel economy has increased across the board. The cars we’re traveling a record number of miles in are more efficient than ever before.  Although our commitment to these standards has set an example for the world, global success in combatting climate disruption depends on even stronger standards in the future.

From conventional internal combustion engine vehicles, to hybrid electric and plug-in electric vehicles, automakers have the technology available to make sure the record high numbers on our odometers doesn’t match the number of pollutants in our air. The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must maintain and enforce strong fuel-efficiency standards to ensure that as our mileage increases, pollutants aren’t doing the same.

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