Clean Car Victory and Oil Drilling Setback: Obama’s Odd Energy Week

On Thursday, the Obama Administration announced a major advancement in federal environmental policy with the establishment of stronger gas mileage standards for 2012-2016 car and light truck model years. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules, set with a combined goal of 35.5 miles per gallon for cars and trucks by 2016, represent an increase of nearly 10 mpg over current standards. The final rules also set tailpipe emissions standards of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile for vehicles sold in 2016. This tailpipe regulation is the first of its kind to be promoted at the federal level since 2007, when the United States Supreme Court concluded that the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Cars and light trucks manufactured to these new standards will save nearly 2 billion barrels of oil and keep 950 million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. More importantly, these new cars and trucks will improve our air quality and help us save money at the pump. 

In stark contrast to these encouraging developments, on Thursday President Obama also announced that he would lift bans on new offshore drilling for oil and natural gas that have been in place since the 1980s. The move allows further study and new drilling to proceed in the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as at some points off the coast of Alaska. Experts have noted that such drilling is not expected to lower gas prices in either the near or long-term.

We’re excited to see the Obama Administration follow California’s lead in establishing cleaner car standards for all Americans. But we’re deeply troubled by his decision to expand offshore oil drilling. As Jeremy Symons, senior vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, puts it, “America has limited oil reserves but unlimited capacity to innovate and pursue cleaner alternatives.” It’s time to tap that spirit of innovation, rather than become further entrenched in the old, sputtering, fossil fuel economy.