Gobbling Less Gas for Thanksgiving – How Clean Cars Can Save Americans Money and Cut Oil Use

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Environment Maine Research & Policy Center

Executive Summary

America’s dependence on oil puts our environment, economy, and national security at risk.  Whether it is the scars left by the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, the $1 billion that American families and businesses send overseas every day for oil, or the nearly 2 billion metric tons of global warming pollution that pollute our air each year, these problems demand that we break our dependence on oil.

The transportation sector accounts for nearly two-thirds of the more than 19 million barrels of oil consumed each day in the United States.  The largest percentage is consumed by passenger cars and light duty trucks, such as SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks.  Requiring automobile manufacturers to meet strong global warming pollution and fuel efficiency standards represents the greatest opportunity to cut America’s oil consumption, reduce global warming pollution from the transportation sector, and deliver important economic benefits to both consumers and businesses – including saving Americans billions of dollars at the pump.

The Thanksgiving holiday travel season is one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, when Americans feel the economic pain of our dependence on oil.  Americans will drive to Thanksgiving dinners all across the country in cars that gobble up too much gas at the pump, threatening our environment and unnecessarily stretching our wallets.  With more than 39 million people taking to the road on trips of at least 50 miles to visit family and friends, Americans are expected to spend $418 million at the gas pump this Thanksgiving holiday.  But our analysis found that, if the average car got 60 miles per gallon (mpg) instead of the current 26.4 mpg, Americans would save $234 million at the gas pump on Thanksgiving travel this year and cut gasoline consumption by 80 million gallons – more than 5 times the amount of oil we imported from Saudi Arabia last year.  The average American family traveling this Thanksgiving would save $12.10, enough money to buy three extra pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving dinner.  While families in all 50 states would experience roughly the same savings, California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois would see the largest overall consumer savings and the largest reductions in gasoline consumption.

American ingenuity has provided the technology to make our current vehicle fleet much cleaner and more fuel efficient.  Automakers have developed plug-in hybrid cars that can travel 100 miles on a gallon of gas and U.S. auto dealers are selling electric cars that can go more than 200 miles on one charge.  Several techniques are already being used to make conventional internal combustion engine vehicles more efficient.

Recognizing this, the Obama administration is currently developing new fleet-wide fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards for cars and light trucks through 2025.  In October, the administration released an analysis that American automakers can cost-effectively make 60 miles per gallon cars the norm and not the exception to the rule.  By requiring the average car and light truck to achieve at least 60 miles per gallon by 2025, the administration would save Americans $101 billion at the gas pump each year and cut our oil consumption by nearly 3 million barrels of oil per day in 2030 – nearly three times the amount of oil we currently import from Saudi Arabia.

Strong clean car standards also enjoy overwhelming public support.  More than 74 percent of likely voters favor increasing the average fuel efficiency standard for cars and light trucks to 60 miles per gallon by 2025, making it clear that Americans are eager to reap the benefits of cleaner, more fuel efficient cars.

It is clear that America has the workforce and the technology to build cleaner, more fuel efficient cars that help break our dangerous dependence on oil.  Ending this dependence that threatens our economy, our environment, and our national security will require our leaders to put American ingenuity to work to move us beyond oil.  The Obama administration should move clean cars into the fast lane by setting standards that require new cars and light trucks to average 60 miles per gallon by 2025.