President Obama Puts Pedal to the Metal on New Environmental Standards for Cars

By Lindsey Ellerson

May 19, 2009 5:47pm

ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:

Standing with such disparate players as United Auto Workers President Ron Gettlefinger, auto company executives, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, President Obama this afternoon announced a new national standard increase gas mileage and decrease greenhouse gas pollution.

“The status quo is no longer acceptable,” The President said, noting that the United States makes up less than 5% of the world population, but provides a quarter of the world’s demand for oil.

The president set the goal of raising the fuel economy standards to an industry average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, which he said would save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years.

Watch related story on ABC’s ‘World News with Charles Gibson’:

“Just to give you a sense of magnitude, that’s more oil than we imported last year from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya, and Nigeria combined," Mr. Obama said.

The President said that little has been done since the gas shortages of the 1970’s, and called the rules governing fuel economy "inadequate, uncertain, and in flux." He touted the agreement for a nation-wide national standards for fuel efficiency, which he said, bought together the leadership of two agencies, 14 states, ten auto manufacturers, the autoworkers union and environmental groups.

“The goal is to set one national standard that will rapidly increase fuel efficiency without compromising safety by an average of five percent each year between 2012 and 2016, building on the 2011 standard my administration set shortly after taking office," he said.

Automakers embraced the rules they have been fighting for decades because they want uniformity, the president said. With the Department of Transportation pushing fuel efficiency standards, the EPA pushing greenhouse gas emission standards, and 14 states seeking their own regulations, automakers embraced the notion of one standard. The President made note of the dire state of the auto-industry and how this announcement might help the car companies get back on their feet, in the long-term, and called it a “winning proposition” for consumers as well.

After the announcement, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hypothesized that the US automakers may have had another reason to cooperate. "Suddenly the car manufacturers, you know, they needed the money, they needed the taxpayers’ money," Schwarzenegger said. "They needed the federal government to help them. And in order to get that help, I’m sure that President Obama said, ‘Okay, if we’re going to give you that help, but here’s what you need to do.’"

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs rejected that the billions in bailout dollars had anything to do with the decisions by General Motors and Chrysler to go along with today’s announcement.

The new rule will add $1,300 to the manufacturing cost of every car by 2016, a cost which will assuredly be passed on to consumers.

"Yes, it costs money to develop these vehicles," the president acknowledged. "But even as the price to build these cars and trucks goes up, the cost of driving these vehicles will go down as drivers save money at the pump.  And this is a point I want to emphasize.  If you buy a car, your investment in a more fuel-efficient vehicle, as a result of this standard, will pay off in just three years”

Making note also of Congressional movement as a part of the larger effort on energy issues, the President spoke about the work in the House Energy and Commerce Committee to fashion legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“(The Committee) is working on an equally historic energy bill that will not only help our dependence on foreign oil, prevent the worst consequences of climate change, and build a clean-energy economy," the president said, which "will provide more than $15 billion to help build the cars and trucks of the future right here in America.”

The President said that ending the dependence on oil and fossil fuels represent the most difficult challenge that the country has ever faced.

“Ending this dependence will take time.  It will take an incredible effort; it will take an historic investment in innovation. But more than anything, it will take a willingness to look past our differences, to act in good faith, to refuse to continue the failures of the past, and to take on this challenge together, for the benefit not just of this generation, but generations to come.”

And, perhaps giving too much of an endorsement to one particular car company, President Obama joked about his own fuel-efficient car in Chicago.

"I think I still have my Ford parked in Chicago. It’s a Ford hybrid, it runs great, you guys should take a look."

The CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally, on stage put his hands over his head in jubilation of the singling out of his company and ringing endorsement.

"But there are also some outstanding hybrids and energy-independent cars represented up here," The President added, "so I didn’t want to just advertise for one."

-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

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