Better Cars Address Climate Change

In the wake of the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, the government released its findings that last year was the hottest on record for the continental U.S. While exact causes are difficult to pin down, what we do know is that just like the unprecedented droughts, flooding, and heat we all experienced this past year, storms like Hurricane Sandy are what global warming looks like.

It’s unfortunate that oil companies, coal companies, and their allies have been successful in stalling a common sense, comprehensive national solution to controlling carbon pollution.

But there is good news. Over the last four years, this country has made huge, transformative strides in cleaning up tailpipe carbon emissions that account for about one fifth of the nation’s carbon pollution. Last fall, the Obama Administration adopted final rules, with the support of the auto industry, UAW, and environmental leaders, requiring the equivalent of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

This doubling of fuel efficiency standards is the biggest action this country has ever taken to cut oil dependency and carbon pollution. By 2030, doubling fuel efficiency will reduce carbon pollution by the equivalent of 85 million cars or 140 coal power plants.

Because of the phasing in of the standards begun in 2012, they are already working to cut carbon pollution and fuel bills. In fact, 2012 set a record of 23.8 mpg for the average fuel efficiency of new autos sold. Compared to the previous model year, hybrid sales grew by 55 percent and plug-in electric vehicles sales tripled.

Now, 2013 promises to be even better with automakers offering at least six more hybrid models and eight more plug-in vehicle offerings than last year. A wave of higher mpg midsize cars, getting up to 38 mpg on the highway, will be launched this year.

By supporting stronger standards and putting clean car offerings on the fast track, the American auto industry is doing its part to avert dangerous climate change. Let’s hope other industries follow their lead.

Roland Hwang is Transportation Program Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council