Thursday, January 26, 2012

Better fuel efficiency: What's not to like?

By Robin Mann

With prices at the pump high and threatening to climb higher, we need better, more efficient cars that guzzle less gas. That's why I joined hundreds of my fellow Pennsylvanians at a public hearing in Philadelphia last week to testify in support of new standards that would mean significant savings for drivers, cleaner air, a safer climate, more jobs, and better vehicle choices.

A few weeks ago, President Obama proposed strengthening fuel-efficiency and carbon-pollution standards for cars and light trucks to 54.5 m.p.g. by 2025. That means the average Pennsylvania family buying a car in 2025 would save more than $3,500 on gas over the car's lifetime, even after paying for fuel-saving technology.

Instead of sending nearly $1 billion a day overseas for oil, we could be investing it in businesses here in Philadelphia and around the state. America's oil addiction also puts our troops at risk around the world and our health at risk here. Burning and refining oil releases contaminants that cause respiratory illnesses, trigger asthma attacks, and can harm lung function and development.

Burning fossil fuels is also cooking the planet. Nearly every day brings news of severe droughts and devastating storms that show climate change is well under way. A spike in the number of extreme weather events, shifts in migratory patterns, drought-induced wildfires and crop failures, devastating floods of coastal communities due to rising sea levels, and disruptions of critical habitats and food chains are costing us billions of dollars and threatening our way of life.

Cleaner cars that burn less oil won't solve all these problems, but they are an important part of the solution.

Last week in Philadelphia, I stood alongside veterans, public-health officials, small-business owners, and other concerned citizens who support cleaner cars. They aren't unusual. Higher fuel-efficiency standards enjoy the support of three-quarters of Americans. And 13 major auto manufacturers, including Detroit's "Big Three," have committed to strong standards.

It's not hard to understand why the idea is popular. Stronger efficiency standards would drive demand for fuel-saving technology and put money back in Americans' pockets. They would create an estimated 484,000 jobs by 2030, including 43,000 in the auto industry. And we would be using 1.5 million fewer barrels of oil per day by 2030 - the same amount we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined last year. That would have the same impact on carbon pollution as shutting down 72 coal-fired power plants for a year.

President Obama's proposal to double the efficiency of America's cars and light trucks would be the biggest single step we have ever taken to break our dangerous addiction to oil and tackle climate disruption. It should not be seen as a partisan or controversial notion. Saving families thousands of dollars, cutting pollution, creating jobs, and protecting the climate should be benefits we can all get behind.

Robin Mann is the president of the Sierra Club and a resident of Rosemont.

This Op-Ed Article Was Cross-Posted from The Philadelphia Inquirer

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