Stronger, Better, Farther

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As a freshman U.S. senator, Barack Obama’s first major legislative proposal was a bill to strengthen fuel-economy standards — a bill that was ultimately signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007. When Obama became president, his administration began to implement those new standards, which marked the first fuel-economy progress our nation had seen in 30 years. Thus, even before becoming president, Obama began shaping the keystone of what has become a substantial climate and energy legacy. Although perhaps not as dramatic as an international climate accord or the push to clean up power plants, fuel-economy standards are a practical, effective tool for beginning to tackle the more than 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that come from cars and trucks.

The good news is that President Obama has kept this ball rolling. His administration implemented a first phase of stronger fuel-economy standards for trucks, buses, and other heavy-duty vehicles in 2011, followed by a new round of passenger-vehicle fuel-economy standards in 2012 (which we’re already on track to meet or exceed). Then, earlier this month, came a second phase of the heavy-duty truck standards, which will keep more than 2 billion barrels of oil in the ground, eliminate roughly 1.1 billion metric tons of climate pollution, and save American businesses about $170 billion over the lifetime of the vehicles.

The point is that progress has been consistent and substantial now for eight years. The latest truck standards, though, are the last fuel-economy milestone that will be completed while President Obama is still in office. The second phase for passenger vehicle standards, which is currently under review, won’t be finalized until after Obama has left office. That fact is not lost on automakers, which see this as an opportunity to weaken the current goal of having passenger cars and light-duty trucks achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

To complete President Obama’s clean transportation legacy, though, we need those passenger car standards to remain as as strong — if not stronger — as in phase one. Together with the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s clean car standards are the most ambitious step the United States has ever taken to reduce carbon and other types of air pollution.

Technology is not the issue. When you look at how far ahead of today’s targets we already are — and at the fast pace of technologic innovation — it’s clear that automakers can meet or exceed the current 54.5-miles-per-gallon standard — if that’s where we set the bar.

Make no mistake: We’re at a critical juncture and this is no time to shift to reverse. With the rules now under review, polluters are lobbying hard to roll back these standards. If they succeed, cars will use more gas and create more pollution, plain and simple.

We can’t let that happen. The EPA is taking comments right now. Urge them to strengthen the vehicle fuel-economy standards that will reduce climate pollution and protect the health of our communities.

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