The Action-Hero-in-Chief imposes new national fuel and CO2 standards

President Obama's image as some sort of action hero busting through governmental gridlock to push through his agenda at warp speed will get another boost today when he is joined by the real-life Terminator in announcing plans to shorten the timeline for car and truck manufacturers to reduce emissions and increase the fuel economy of the nation's auto fleet. Governor Schwarzenegger (ne Terminator) is expected to be on hand to confirm that his state has agreed to temporarily relax its state regulations and abide by a uniform nationwide standard. (Eventually, all states will have to meet the the current California regs.) This will alleviate the carmakers of the need to customize vehicles to meet a variety of state-level emission and efficiency regulations.

The breakthrough comes after years during which the issue had bogged in political wrangling between the Bush administration, California and the car companies. Backed by Detroit, the administration had repeatedly tried to block California's EPA waiver for stricter fuel and emission standards, even as 13 other states and the District of Columbia angled to impose their own me-too standards. Days after taking office, Obama ordered the EPA to re-evaluate the situation and hammer out a solution. In fairness, Detroit's recent weakened financial position certainly removed one major obstacle to compromise.

According to The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) the government will move the target dates for increased fuel economy, as established in the Energy and Independence and Security Act of 2007, forward by four years from 2020 to 2016. By then, new passenger cars will be required to average 39 mpg and light trucks (which include SUVs) 30 mpg. At present, the domestic passenger-car fleet averages 32.6 mpg, light trucks 24.2 mpg.

Today's average car emits 380 grams of CO2 per mile. By 2016, manufacturers will face a nationwide tailpipe emissions fleet standard of 250 grams per mile. The new change is expected to reduce greenhouse gases by 900 million metric tons through 2016, according to a senior administration official quoted by Bloomberg.

The EPA and the Department of Transportation will be responsible for creating the rules to implement the new emissions and fuel efficiency standards.

Using the assumptions in the Energy and Independence Act (an average gas price of $2.25, and cost to society for CO2 of $7 per ton), a motorist driving 20,000 miles in a car that meets the 2016 standards would save $306.15 in fuel and $49 in carbon per year over the cost of driving the average 2009 domestic car. An unnamed source quoted by the Washington Post estimated that these new regulations, along with others already in place, could increase the sticker price of the average car by $1,300.

Ironically, as gas priced dropped this winter the demand for large gas-guzzling SUVs rebounded somewhat, while sales of high-mpg compacts and hybrids have slowed. Not that that is about to stop the Obam-i-nator.

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