Local Action Moves the Car World

Yesterday’s announcement of new federal miles per gallon standards has rightly been hailed as the biggest thing the White House has ever done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Let me also say: “It’s about damn time, and kudos to the states for taking the lead.”

In 1984, Ronald Reagan was running for a second term. Apple invented the Macintosh. The federal requirement for average fuel efficiency of new cars and trucks was 20 miles per gallon.

In 1990, George H.W. Bush was president. The World Wide Web was created. The Hubble Space Telescope was launched. The miles per gallon standard was 20.

In 1995, Bill Clinton was president. New technology enabled us to pack data onto DVDs and take pictures with digital cameras.  The miles per gallon standard was 20.6.

In 2001, George W. Bush moved into the White House. Text messaging began to change the way we communicate and artificial hearts became successful.  The miles per gallon standard was 20.7.

The standard then inched up to 22 MPG in 2007, 23 in 2009, and 24 in 2011 – progress for cars, but paltry compared to advances in cell phones, Mars rovers, and quantum mechanics.

Then came the big jumps. I was at the White House two years ago when Pres. Obama announced new standards for model years 2012-2016. I had fought for years for stronger standards at the state level in California, Maryland and other states, and was extremely honored to be in the Rose Garden for the announcement.  The standard will hit 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016.

Yesterday, Pres. Obama finalized standards for model years 2017-2025, increasing the standard to 54.5 miles per gallon for the average of all new vehicles sold in 2025. Together, these two sets of standards will save 12 billion barrels of oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion tons.

This was only possible through the long-standing effort of California and other states to surpass the federal government and take matters into their own hands with stronger state standards. Finally, the federal government has caught up with leading states and vehicle technology will catch up with the rest of the modern world.

Let it be a lesson we can apply to other sectors. Change at the local level can move the world.

Brad Heavner

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