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The Planet

Improving Auto Efficiency--The single biggest step to slowing global warming

The Planet, July/August 1997, Volume 4, number 6

[Car with exhaust surrounding earth] The biggest single step the Clinton administration and Congress can take right now to curb global warming and ensure a safe energy future for America is to enact strong fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks. The Clinton administration is now considering whether and how to improve the efficiency of our cars.

Raising automobile fuel efficiency is like finding a new source of oil under Detroit. Over 40 percent of the oil we use in this country goes into our cars and trucks. Getting more miles out of a gallon of gas means lessening our dangerous reliance on oil, lowering levels of carbon dioxide pollution, reducing pressure to drill in sensitive environments, enhancing national security, and saving consumers money at the gas pump.

The current Corporate Average Fuel Economy or "CAFE" standards passed in 1975 have been a great success. They require that new cars average 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) and light trucks average 20.7 mpg. Since automakers reached the standard in the 1980s, however, fuel economy levels have stagnated. Sierra Club, along with a coalition of consumer, safety and other environmental advocates, is issuing a clarion call to update the CAFE law to 45 mpg for cars and 34 mpg for light trucks over 10 years. Since CAFE is an average standard, auto makers can produce vehicles that fail to meet the standard, as long as enough vehicles exceed the standard to balance it out. Improving the CAFE standards would save this country millions of barrels of oil each day and would prevent hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere annually.

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