The Obama administration scored a victory for public health this week with the announcement of new fuel economy standards. The rules would double gas mileage for cars and light trucks by 2025, saving motorists thousands at the pump, and curb by up to half the release of global-warming greenhouse gases. This is another contrast in the election campaign between President Barack Obama's rounded energy policy and the drill-and-deregulate stance of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The standards require automakers to reach an average fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by the 2025 model year. The goals build on the Obama administration's current target of 35.5 mpg by 2016, and they put the United States in line with Japan, Europe and the industrialized world in getting more energy from every dollar while curbing air pollution.
These are doable targets that the industry has agreed to — and, indeed, is already working to meet. Thirteen major players in the industry, including Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, who together build nine of out every 10 cars sold in the United States, embraced the standards after working closely with the federal government, the auto unions, consumer groups and others in the last year. Manufacturers will have the latitude to achieve the targets in a variety of ways, from making the transmissions and engines more fuel-efficient to improving aerodynamic designs and reducing a vehicle's weight. The measure also includes some weasel language in an effort to tamp down the sticker price of these more efficient vehicles.
The Romney camp trashed the new goals as "extreme." But that's not saying much for a campaign whose just-released energy strategy calls for little more than expanding oil and gas drilling on all available lands and further hamstringing the federal government's ability to ensure that these practices are safe.
The administration estimates that the savings at the pump will more than make up for the new cars' heftier sticker prices. The rules would reduce American oil imports and lead to cleaner air and water, helping millions who suffer from chronic diseases. The long lead time gives the industry regulatory certainty, and the rules will create high-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector while expanding consumer choice by bringing more auto models on the market. The only loser here is a Republican ticket that is more comfortable championing the gas-guzzling status quo. Obama nudged the industry in the right direction again, and American consumers are better for it.