Tuesday, June 28, 2016

GHGs Are Rising Despite Fuel Economy Standards.  What's the Solution?

Americans' cars are getting bigger and they're driving more than ever before -- two reasons why U.S. transportation emissions continue to grow despite fuel economy standards, experts say. (Photo Credit: Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Fuel economy is the Obama administration's main strategy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.  But emissions keep rising.  In the first two months of 2016, greenhouse gases from transportation topped those from the power sector for the first time, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas emissions standards have only achieved around two-thirds of the expected fleetwide fuel and emissions savings since 2010.  That piles on the pressure for federal transportation agencies, which are currently in the midst of reviewing the standards' effectiveness.

To kick off the process, they are reassessing their assumptions about technology and markets from when the rules were finalized in 2010 and 2012.  The analysis is expected this week.  The impact of low oil prices on the promised fuel savings, and potential new expectations for the future, will likely be a key part of the report.

"When it comes to climate, fuel economy standards are the only game in town to address impacts from transportation," said Sam Ori, the director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.  "If we're falling short of our goals, it really behooves everyone to take a look."

The rules require automakers to nearly double the miles per gallon of new cars by 2025 from 2010.  They're doing their job:  Automakers are improving the fuel efficiency of their cars every year.  Most of the time, new cars flush with novel technologies even exceed the standards, and they're mostly on track to keep doing so.

But even the best technology can't fight market forces.
Last year, Americans drove more than ever before, logging more than 3.15 trillion miles, according to the Federal Highway Administration.  Just the increase from the previous year, about 1.07 billion, would be equivalent to every person in New Jersey driving to San Francisco and back -- twice.  So far this year, the United States is on track to beat that record.

Not only are Americans driving more, but they are choosing more gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs than the agencies setting the standards expected.  As a result, the net real-world benefits of the government's standards have fallen below projections, and the gap is growing.

"The fact that you're seeing changes in the fleet re-emphasizes the need to push forward with the strongest standards as we look to achieve oil reduction and climate goals," said Dave Cooke, a senior vehicles analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

As part of a previously agreed-upon midterm review, U.S. EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the California Air Resources Board will have to decide by 2018 whether to tighten, loosen or maintain the standards for 2025.

Read more at GHGs Are Rising Despite Fuel Economy Standards.  What's the Solution?

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