Obama drives forward with more oil savings

Last year, Obama raised new car fuel efficiency standard to 35.5 mpg by 2016, the biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2.  Now he’s taking the next step, as CAP’s Daniel J. Weiss explains.

Congressional efforts to reduce oil use and global warming pollution are stalled due to near blanket opposition from Senate Republicans along with a handful of Democrats.  Meanwhile, President Obama continues to use his authority to accomplish both of those goals.

On Friday, October 1st, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a “Notice of Upcoming Joint Rulemaking to Establish 2017 and Later Model Year Light Duty Vehicle GHG Emissions and CAFE Standards.”

Jackson noted that:

Continuing the successful clean cars program will accelerate the environmental benefits, health protections and clean technology advances over the long-term. In addition to protecting our air and cutting fuel consumption, a clear path forward will give American automakers the certainty they need to make the right investments and promote innovations.

These new standards could reduce oil use by up to 1.3 billion barrels over the lifetime of the cars built from 2017-2025.  This is equal to the combined 2009 oil imports from Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.  The new standards could also cut greenhouse gas pollution by up to nearly 600 million metric tons during that same period.

Today’s announcement provided a range of options that the government will seek public comments.  The options include fuel economy improvements of 3% to 6% annually, which would translate to 47 miles per gallon to 62 miles per gallon.  There are also scenarios that assume different mixes of gasoline and diesel vehicles, and hybrid, plug-in, and all electric vehicles.

Scenario Gram of CO2/mile in MY 2025 MPG Equivalent Lifetime of vehicles CO2e reduction (million metric tons) Lifetime of vehicles Fuel Reduction (million barrels) Average preliminary vehicle cost estimates Average net lifetime owner savings
3 percent 190 47 340 700 $900 $5,050
4 percent 173 51 440 900 $1625 $5,850
5 percent 158 56 520-530 1,100 $2375 $6,425
6 percent 143 62 530-590 1,300 $3225 $6,475

Each of these scenarios would add a different average cost to the price of vehicles, and provide a different net life time savings from lower gasoline purchases.  EPA analysis predicts that

All MY 2025 scenarios, regardless of technology pathway, have a positive net lifetime fuel savings between approximately $4,900 and $7,400, and for MY 2025 all of the scenarios and technology pathways pay back in 4.2 years or less.

This is a very conservative estimate because the “gasoline price used for this estimate is $3.49/gallon in 2025.”  The last time gasoline prices were as high as $3.48 a gallon was the week of October 6, 2008.  Oil prices were $93 per barrel the week of October 3, 2008.  So the cost savings in the EPA-DOT proposal assume that oil prices remain below $100 per barrel even as the world’s economies recover and oil demand rises.  If gasoline prices are higher than $3.49 or $100/barrel, then the savings would be greater and the payback period shorter.

Some in the auto industry may claim that a 60 MPG fuel economy standard 15 years from now will be too difficult to achieve.  However, the Union of Concerned Scientists and other environmental organizations believe that this goal is realistic.

Conventional internal combustion engine vehicles can be made much more efficient by applying, for example, downsized turbocharged engines, six- and seven-speed transmissions, high-strength lightweight materials, enhanced aerodynamic designs, and more climate-friendly air conditioning systems. Some vehicles already on the road use a limited number of these technologies. However, all new vehicles could apply the full range of technology to maximize fuel efficiency.

In addition, such standards would increase investments in plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle technologies.

Adoption of the 6 percent annual increase would save the most oil, reduce the most pollution, and provide the biggest boost to the U.S. auto industry by driving it to develop, build and export the cleanest cars of the 21st Century.   Hopefully, this will be the standard ultimately adopted by the administration.

Today’s announcement is the beginning of a nearly two year process to propose and adopt final standards.  The proposal is due a year from now, and will go final by July 31, 2012.

Comments on this first proposal should be sent by October 31, 2010.  There will be another opportunity comment after the issuance of the proposed rules due by September 30, 2011.  Instructions for comments:

Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-0799 and/or NHTSA-2010-0131, by one of the following methods:

  • Follow the on-line instructions for submitting comments.
  • Email:
  • Fax: EPA: (202) 566-1741;  NHTSA: (202) 493-2251.
  • Mail:  EPA: Environmental Protection Agency, Mail code: 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460, Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR2010-0799 or NHTSA: Docket Management Facility, M-30, U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building, Ground Floor, Rm. W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590.
  • Daniel J. Weiss is Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy, Center for American Progress.

    17 Responses to Obama drives forward with more oil savings

    1. Jeff Huggins says:

      The One-Trillion-Pound-Plus Behemoth

      Thanks for this great post, Daniel. The information is very helpful.

      I’d just like to remind people of some figures, for comparison.

      In a single year, ExxonMobil products alone, when used, generate over One Trillion Pounds of CO2. If anything, that’s probably a conservative estimate. (ExxonMobil won’t provide the number; I’ve asked them before. But it can be fairly easily estimated from figures in their annual report.) And, that number doesn’t include all the GHG emissions from their own operations — exploration, production, logistics, refining, and so forth. It’s just the CO2 generated when we actually use the products they promote and provide.

      Compare that to the reduced oil usage of “up to” 1.3 billion barrels over the LIFETIME of the cars built from 2017 to 2025 under these new proposed standards — or the associated reduced greenhouse gas pollution of “up to” nearly 600 million metric tons during that same period — i.e., to the reductions estimated in the post related to the improvements being proposed.

      If you do the math, the figures all end up being in the same range . . . indeed, pretty close.

      In other words, the reduced GHG emissions resulting from these proposed improvements, during the LIFETIME of the cars built from 2017 to 2025 — in other words, during the LIFETIME of cars built over a nine-year period — are about the same as the CO2 emitted by the products of ExxonMobil alone during a one-year period.

      If someone else could check that rough math, that would be great. Yet, I’m pretty sure that’s the case.

      Meanwhile, ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson still seems intent on sticking to the philosophy that he told Jad Mouawad of The New York Times in July of 2008:

      “My view is I am going to keep doing what we do better than anyone else in the world — finding, developing and delivering oil and gas to the world.”

      . . . a ballsy answer, to be sure, given that the context of the question involved global warming, in part. (Sorry for the phraseology.)

      So here we are, as usual: a major hard-to-achieve multiple-year proposal from a President of the United States, regarding one aspect of the issue of our times, and the entire benefit of it over many years will add up to no more than the one-year impact of a single U.S.-headquartered behemoth company, a company that’s intent on doing what it does, regardless of its impact.

      Tell you what: The very next time someone plans a nationwide event (such as the 10/10/10 thing), if the plan for that next event is to amass 3 million people at the Texas headquarters of ExxonMobil, and another 3 million in the Washington DC area around the API headquarters (and the coal folks, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), and if the plan then is to do a huge blanket boycott of ExxonMobil and also insist that huge pension funds sell their ExxonMobil shares, then I’ll be there. If the plan is anything other than that, you can count me out.

      Can someone explain to me how we have a situation where a single company can reject and contravene the best interests of the planet, and bring about more damage in one year than a major multiyear government program can address, and yet all we do is write complaints about them?


    2. fj2 says:

      Transportation with 1% the environmental footprint of cars is a major part of the critical path to serious mitigation of climate change.

    3. SecularAnimist says:

      Daniel Weiss wrote: “The options include fuel economy improvements of 3% to 6% annually, which would translate to 47 miles per gallon to 62 miles per gallon … Some in the auto industry may claim that a 60 MPG fuel economy standard 15 years from now will be too difficult to achieve.”

      I drive a 1991 Ford Festiva (designed by Mazda and Kia, and manufactured by Kia for Ford) which gets 35-40 MPG in worst-case, stop-and-go urban driving, and 50-55 MPG on the highway.

      With TWENTY-YEAR-OLD technology.

      And US automobile manufacturers already manufacture cars for the European and Asian markets that get in the range of 50-60 MPG, but they don’t sell them in the USA.

      The fact is that the auto industry has had the technology to build 60 MPG cars for decades. They simply chose not to do so, because $40,000 gas-guzzling SUV behemoths were far more profitable.

      For the corporate welfare queens at the auto companies to whine that they can’t build cars with the fuel efficiency of a 20-year-old Ford Festiva or Geo Metro, or the fuel efficiency of the cars they already sell in Europe, in 15 years, is as laughable as it is reprehensible.

      If anything, the proposed fuel efficiency standards are too little, too late.

    4. fj2 says:

      One-percent transportation is easily achieved for travel less than 20 miles with hybrid human-electric technology.

      Long-range one-percent transportation can be readily achieved with virtual elimination of stochastic processes (air, rolling, and electrical resistances) such as with linearization of commercial flywheel energy technology.

      Keeping vehicles less than 100 pounds can greatly facilitate very high efficiencies and broad implementation.

    5. NeilT says:

      Whilst this all sounds good in principle, Secular Animist has already hit it on the head.

      The MPV my wife drives weighs two tonnes and achieves about 50mpg (imperial), at 56mph. It uses a 2.0 litre turbocharged diesel engine, it’s 11 years old and the new one’s are better.

      However the point is that these manufacturers don’t want to change the status quo, they want to keep doing what they are doing.

      The big issues with the ICE are mechanical and thermal inefficiency. 60% of the heat generated by the burning gasses goes out the exhaust port. Of the 30% retained, precious little is actually used to drive the vehicle. In fact as anyone with a bent con rod should be able to tell you, as the gas explodes it tries to drive the con rod through the crank instead of creating driving motion.

      Worse, the inefficiencies of the engines increase with size, so a truck engine uses more fuel for each hp generated and a ship uses even more.

      les us look at the Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C which powers the largest marine container ships in the world. They have a top speed of 24 knots and use 3.8 litres of bunker fuel per second at that speed.

      The journey from Shanghai to Rotterdam is 10588 nautical miles and takes, at full speed, 18.38 days. Or 6 Million Litres of Fuel!!!

      Not really that efficient.

      So what can we do? No chance of running it on electric…. It would have to be full of batteries and run out of power in days. Nuclear? I can just see fleets of nuclear powered ships… No I think not.

      Last week I entered the NoAE competition with a submission which, if it really works, has the potential to reduce that bunker fuel to 1.5 million litres, or increase your family car to 200mpg. I wonder if it will actually make the light of day?

      My scepticism about these moves to increase the MPG of vehicles comes from the responses I have received from the automotive industry over the last 15 years range from “no we’re not interested in an engine with the potential to make 200 (or even 400) mpg” to “Yes we’d love to talk to you it’s very interesting but, no, we don’t do NDA, get a patent”. Now I don’t know about anyone else here but I’ve worked in the patent industry, it would cost circa $1M to fully patent an idea like this…

      Anyway, the idea is now public domain. If anybody is really interested in a lateral think on the IC engine then I can send my submission to Joe. It’s not some quasi scientific document full of equations and mystic ways of getting something for nothing. It is a very simple fundamental rethink of the current IC engine which blends the cycle path of the gas turbine with the power density of IC and the idle characteristics of electric at a simple mechanical design level.

    6. Edward says:

      Let’s all make comments on that proposed rulemaking. In particular, ALL “light duty” vehicles should be required to be efficient, not just the fleet average. Send comments to

      Mercedes Benz bought Chrysler just so they could screw up the Dodge diesel pickup. Dr. Z knew the average person thinks more horsepower means heavier duty and lasts longer. At 185 horsepower that B series Cummins is medium duty and will go
      four hundred thousand miles. At 325 horsepower it is light duty and will go one hundred thousand miles. GIven a choice, 70% made the wrong choice.

      Informed customers could drive the industry to make cars that last a lot longer for a very small price.

    7. catman306 says:

      The ad men created this monster. They made a whole civilization crave what it didn’t need. Maybe they can slay their own creation and save a planet that everyone likes.

      Why aren’t there public service announcements (PSAs) concerning climate change? Just who makes that call?

    8. David B. Benson says:

      Somewhat related in that we also need to replace coal burners with non-CO2 emitting energy sources, check out the presentation pages of this recent conference in Berkeley:
      Conf. on small modular nuclear reactors; Nuscale in presentation session I:
      I was mostly just interested in the
      offering (not that other designs/companies aren’t as good or even better).

    9. OregonStream says:

      S.A., there’s certainly plenty of room for improvement, even with greater comfort and safety than the light cars of yesteryear. But part of the problem is that much of the American public still isn’t efficiency-minded, and it shows in their driving habits and their choice of massive vehicles with lots of surplus power. Gluttony shouldn’t be rewarded with subsidies that keep the price of petro-fuels artificially low. Otherwise, cap & trade (if we ever get it) ultimately might need to include petroleum end-users, with discounts applied to the more economical models and the use of mass transit.

    10. OregonStream says:

      Something to keep in mind about diesels is that although they’re more efficient (and have greater torque despite lower horsepower), the fuel itself yields more energy in combustion (and is more carbon intensive). So maybe they can’t be directly compared with a full hybrid at least. And who knows what would happen to diesel prices if half the population switched. As I understand it, a barrel of oil yields more gasoline than diesel, and the oil companies are going to want to sell that gas. So imagine hybridizing the prototype gasoline engine that supposedly come closer to diesel efficiency. Not sure how the costs would look. But gas will probably be with us for awhile, especially absent any serious climate policy.

    11. Edward says:

      Cars contribute only 10% of our CO2. Coal fired electric power plants contribute 40%. We can fully replace large stationary sources [coal fired power plants] with alternative technology that we already have. Car mileage is “just for show” in comparison. Let’s keep our eyes on the big prize: coal.

      5 NeilT: Per ton mile of cargo carried, the ship wins. But the ship could be nuclear or wind powered.

    12. Ret says:

      It’s for us to go on mass transportation. If we build more mass transportation vehicles rather than embracing the system of individualism for transportation, then we can gain fuel and power efficiency. Mass transportation needs united people – it needs to promote unity.

    13. NeilT says:

      @11 Edward,

      We’ve done ships powered by wind. We’re never going back there. Terms like “driven up on the rocks” have almost completely gone from our vocabulary but they represent a real danger with wind powered ships and were a stark reality of the times. Enough of the wind already we’ve known how to do that for more than 5,000 years and we don’t do it now. There’s a reason for that.

      As for Nuclear, the day I see thousands of civilian ships with nuclear power sources is a day I never want to see given the lax levels of maintenance in some ships on the seas.

      Per ton, per mile, barges towed by horses are far lower emitters of carbon that motor powered vessels. Can’t we have some advancement? Or do we have to keep going around making arguments not to?

      Finally, I had to dig for the figures, but it broke down like this in the US (2008):

      33.5% emissions Electricity generation
      27.7% Transport of which 20% is personal vehicles.

      So when you talk 60mpg cars you are talking about dropping 5.5% of the US emissions by 6%. EV is slightly better but not much until you get renewables in sufficient quantity.

      When I talk about fixing the ICE I talk about dropping that 5.5% by 75% and all the road and non electrified rail freight by a similar amount.

      Yes you have to fix coal, yes you have to have more efficient power, but you also have to get off wasting 60% of the energy you produce in the ICE by pushing it out the exhaust port and you have to start using the power you generate from each burn more efficiently. Something nobody is looking at.

      I gave the shipping as a very extreme example. Imagine a 44 ton truck doing 100mpg and you’ll get there. Because we have to get there. Or we won’t survive this.

      Your response to this was similar to the first time I ever talked to an engineer about redesigning the ICE. When I talked about getting 4* the torque from the same power output he said “you can change torque in a gearbox”. Fuckwitt! I refrained from saying “Try driving your car around in second gear and see how much economy you get”; just. With engineers like that is it any wonder we have so many coal fired power stations and we burn so much gas?

    14. Andy says:

      Note, the proposed rule does not appear to be up on yet. Will someone post if they are able to pull the rule up on the site and submit a comment?

      Comments pointing out that US car companies already make vehicles with this level of fuel economy (per SecularAnimist #3) could be appropriate.

    15. OregonStream says:

      Edward (#11), coal is the single biggest threat, but given remaining future mitigation uncertainties, maybe we need cuts wherever we can get them. And the number of vehicles worldwide is growing fast. We should be working on all of the “big three” emission sources, and contributing to the proliferation of efficient technologies to meet future demand.

    16. spiritkas says:


      Email is great and all, but seriously…sent a snail mail letter. An inbox inundated with emails is nothing compared to having to physically carry bags and bags of mail in an office. Saul Alinsky taught us that creativity can overcome the resources of the other side or the lack of resources on your own side. A 100 people doing targeted multi day multi thousand mailings of letters might do more with their money than 100 people paying transit costs and buying signs to rally/protest in front of an office building for a day. I think that or something even more creative is a better use for the $500 or so in transit and sign making or more 100 people could spend.



    17. spiritkas says:

      One more thought! Better yet send packages, they take up more room. What do the USPS flat rate small boxes cost? Like $4 or something? Those would take up some serious room in an office building for not a lot of money. The return address, not sure about legality here, could be anything. Ha!