Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center
America’s dependence on oil threatens our environment, our economy, and our national security. Whether it is the scars left by the oil spills in the Yellowstone and Kalamazoo rivers and the Gulf of Mexico, 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 emitted annually which fuel more and more extreme weather, these problems demand that we break our dependence on oil.
The U.S. consumes more than 19 million barrels of oil each day. Nearly two-thirds of that is consumed by the transportation sector, with the largest percentage being consumed by passenger cars and light duty trucks, such as SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks. All of this oil consumption produces air pollution that causes global warming.
We can cut our oil use and reduce this dangerous pollution by requiring automobile manufacturers to meet stronger global warming pollution and fuel efficiency standards. Adopting the strong fuel efficiency standards under consideration now is our nation’s greatest opportunity right now 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 week of Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, when many Americans are hit hard by the economic pain of our dependence on oil. While not everyone will be traveling over the river and through the woods, Americans will drive to Thanksgiving dinners all across the country in cars that gobble up too much gas at the pump, generating global warming pollution that threatens our environment while also unnecessarily emptying our wallets. With over 38 million people driving to visit family and friends on trips of at least 50 miles, Americans are expected to spend $552 million at the gas pump this Thanksgiving holiday. However, if the average passenger vehicle met a 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) standard instead of the current 26.4 mpg standard, Americans would save $260 million at the gas pump on Thanksgiving travel this year and cut gasoline consumption by 75 million gallons—more than 4 times the amount of oil we imported from Saudi Arabia last year. In addition, global warming pollution emissions from the average car or light truck would be cut by 47%. The typical American family traveling this Thanksgiving would save $14.90, enough money to bring a few extra pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving dinner. While families in all 50 states would experience roughly the same savings, California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois would see the largest overall consumer savings and the largest reductions in gasoline consumption.
We already have cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars in dealer showrooms and on the road, and American ingenuity has provided the technology to make the nation’s entire vehicle fleet much cleaner and more fuel-efficient. Several technologies are already being used to make conventional internal combustion engine vehicles that are more fuel-efficient and create less global warming pollution.
Recognizing the problems posed by our dependence on oil—and the available solutions—the Obama administration has proposed new fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards for cars and light trucks from 2017-2025. These standards were developed with the support of 13 major automobile manufacturers and the United Auto Workers, and earned praise from the environmental community as well as many consumer groups. By requiring the average car and light truck to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, the standards would save Americans nearly $45 billion at the gas pump each year and cut our annual oil consumption by 23 billion gallons— equivalent to our annual imports from Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
America has the technology and the work-force ready and willing to build cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars that help break our dependence on oil. Ending this dependence will reap enormous benefits for our environment and our economy. The Obama administration should move clean cars into the fast lane by keeping the 2017-2025 clean car standards free of loopholes, and ensuring that new cars and light trucks achieve a standard of at least 54.5 mpg by 2025.