New National Fuel Economy Standards Challenged
Bush Administration Ignores Security Threat from
Global Climate Change and Need for Energy Conservation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 6, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The Center for Biological Diversity (Center), a national conservation organization, is challenging the Bush administration’s new national gas mileage standards for light trucks, including sport utility vehicles (SUVs), pickup trucks and minivans, announced last week. A lawsuit to be filed today in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco alleges that the new mileage standards for light trucks are far below what is technologically possible and required by law, and that the government failed to adequately address global climate change, air quality and other environmental impacts in making its decision. In making the first changes in light truck fuel economy standards in more than a quarter century, the Bush administration bowed to pressure from domestic auto manufacturers and will require only incremental increases in fuel efficiency, committing the nation to unnecessary waste of gas and money and continued dependence on foreign oil.
“The Bush administration’s lax new gas mileage standards are unfortunately going to keep America addicted to oil for a long time to come and accelerate impacts from global climate change,” said Peter Galvin, Conservation Director with the Center. “The fuel efficiency increases are miniscule compared to what is possible with existing technology and the major reforms urgently needed to cut air pollution, combat global climate change and save money at the gas pump. The Bush administration is figuratively and literally fiddling while the earth burns. The U.S. can and must do better if we are going to leave a habitable and tolerable planet for our children and grandchildren.”
Under the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, passed in the wake of the 1970s energy crisis, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is required to set fuel economy standards for SUVs and pickup trucks in order to conserve energy, decrease reliance on oil and safeguard the environment. The DOT must set fuel economy standards at the “maximum feasible level” under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy program (CAFE) and fully analyze the environmental impacts under federal laws.
The U.S. transportation sector, primarily passenger cars and light trucks, accounts for two-thirds of U.S. petroleum use, one-third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, and 7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Since light trucks account for more than half of new vehicle sales, meaningful increases in fuel economy standards would result in major reductions of emissions responsible for global climate change. Under the current CAFE system, automakers must maintain an average of 21.6 miles per gallon (mpg) for 2006 model year light trucks, with an increase to 22.2 mpg for 2007 vehicles. Passenger cars, which would not be covered by the new rules, need a 27.5 mpg average, with automakers required to meet fuel economy targets based on their mix of vehicles. The new standards would raise gas mileage requirements only slightly from where they have languished for years, leading to a projected fleet-wide average of 24.1 mpg by 2011, an improvement for gas-guzzling SUVs and light trucks of only 1.9 mpg over four years.
Fuel efficiency technology has far outstripped the shamefully low fuel economy levels required by the DOT. With readily available cost-effective technologies, automakers could double the current average fuel economy of light trucks and achieve a fleet-wide fuel efficiency of 38 mpg by 2015, for an oil savings of 1.1 million barrels per day, saving more than five times more oil than the Bush administration proposal.
The lawsuit to be filed today by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of the Center alleges that the Environmental Assessment of the light truck rule is inadequate since the DOT failed to adequately consider global climate change, relied on marginal cost-benefit analysis, and erred by predetermining the maximum feasible average fuel economy for light trucks. The DOT did not consider or evaluate impacts for a reasonable range of alternative fuel standards, instead choosing incremental changes and comparing the fuel savings to clearly inadequate existing standards. The DOT failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act or review the impacts on species listed under the Endangered Species Act. DOT acknowledges that the new standards primarily benefit General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, which produce more large and low-mileage models than foreign competitors.
“The Department of Transportation has utterly failed to examine the overall environmental impacts from greenhouse gases emitted by light trucks, looking only at the incremental change in emissions and fuel usage from the new standards,” said Deborah Sivas, Director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic. “Without an analysis of the environmental effects from greenhouse gases, the administration continues its shell game of trying to avoid looking at global climate change problems.”
The rule seeks to illegally preclude states from setting emission standards that go further than the CAFE standards; California recently passed landmark state legislation regulating greenhouse gases from automobiles. States have authority under the Clean Air Act to issue vehicle emission standards for heat-trapping air pollutants that cause global climate change, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydro-fluorocarbons. The Attorney Generals from California, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Vermont and Oregon oppose the Bush administration’s lax standards and are asserting states’ right to regulate auto emissions to protect public health and the environment.
Global climate change is one of the leading threats to all species worldwide, with species such as the polar bear directly threatened with extinction due to rapidly rising Arctic temperatures. Polar bears are completely dependent upon Arctic sea-ice habitat for survival, needing it as a platform from which to hunt their primary prey (ringed seals), to make seasonal migrations between the sea ice and terrestrial denning areas, and for other essential behaviors such as mating. The polar bear’s sea-ice habitat is melting away due to accelerated Arctic warming, and the Arctic may be ice-free in the summer well before the end of this century. Scientists announced last month that glaciers and ice sheets at the poles are melting faster than previously thought and could cause a rise in sea levels around the world by as much as 13 to 20 feet by the end of the century. The Center submitted petitions to list the Caribbean coral species and polar bears under the Endangered Species Act in March 2004 and February 2006.
In defiance of scientific evidence and rational policy, the Bush administration has argued against any meaningful action on reducing greenhouse gases and attempts to cast doubt on the science of global climate change. The causes and impacts of global climate change are no longer in doubt and scientific consensus has existed for years on the causes of climate change.
More information regarding the Center for Biological Diversity’s work to combat global climate change is available at: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/policy/energy/index.html.