Obama to Unveil Dramatic New Auto Emissions Standards

New emission standards will be required as early as 2012.

A new front in the battle against climate change will open on May 19, when President Barack Obama unveils sweeping auto regulations described as equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road.

The first-ever nationwide standards to combat greenhouse gas pollution for automobiles will force automakers to dramatically boost the efficiency of cars and light trucks by 2016, four years earlier than currently required under federal law. Covering mileage and carbon dioxide gas emission requirements for cars and light trucks would begin to take effect in 2012.

For the latest 2009 models, the fleet average for U.S. vehicles is 25 miles per gallon. Most cars currently are required to get 27.5 miles per gallon, while light trucks must reach 23.1 miles per gallon.

New standards will push the fleet average fuel consumption for vehicles to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 (15.44 kilometers per liter). Most passenger cars must reach 39 miles per gallon by 2016 and light trucks will be required to satisfy fuel consumption regulations of 30 miles per gallon.

But cars will be more expensive because of the new regulations by up to $600 per vehicle, above the $700 price hike expected with the latest Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules already passed by Congress. However, drivers will likely be able to recoup the cost as they will have to buy less fuel, an official stated.

The regulations will end a legal battle over stringent standards imposed by California that have been challenged by the auto industry, and put an end to the current patchwork of state-by-state standards. "California has agreed that they will defer to the proposed national standard" if it is completed, the official said.

The new policy will give more certainty to automakers like Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, which have been battered by the financial crisis and are working to refit vehicles by streamlining the regulatory process. The auto giants said the plans would provide a single nationwide efficiency standard they have sought.

"Energy security and climate change are national priorities that require federal leadership and the president's direction makes sense for the country and the industry," said GM CEO Fritz Henderson, stressing that harmonizing the various regulatory standards "will benefit consumers across America."

Chrysler said that along with its alliance partner Fiat, it "will now be able to concentrate their resources on developing a nationwide fleet of clean, fuel-efficient vehicles."

Tuesday's event, scheduled to be held in the White House Rose Garden, was expected to feature green campaigners, auto industry chiefs and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has pushed efficiency reform.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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