September 23, 2021

Negotiators Nearing Deal on Mileage for Vehicles

The administration had earlier proposed a goal of 56.2 miles per gallon, while Detroit automakers and Michigan lawmakers have been pushing for a lower standard.

But people close to the talks said Tuesday that some automakers were now willing to support a 54.5 m.p.g. rule, particularly because the ramp-up period is less aggressive for light trucks than for passenger cars. The new proposal would almost double the current fuel-efficiency standards of about 27.8 m.p.g.

The talks among the administration, automakers, environmental groups and California officials have been continuing for weeks, as the various sides grappled with how to reduce global warming emissions, cut fuel consumption and reduce the costs that consumers pay at the pump.

The new administration proposal calls for increasing fuel efficiency for light trucks by 3.5 percent annually from 2017 to 2021. It would then be increased by 5 percent a year from 2022 to 2025.

Passenger cars would need to become 5 percent more efficient every year over the entire eight-year span of the standard.

In 2009, automakers agreed to an administration plan to increase fuel economy to about 35 m.p.g. by 2016.

The proposed standard has the potential to curtail vehicle emissions drastically and reduce the nation’s dependence on oil. However, industry groups have argued that the changes could add thousands of dollars to the price of new vehicles in the showroom.

There was no immediate comment from the White House on Tuesday, but people familiar with the discussions said the talks appeared to be nearing a conclusion.

“We are encouraged by the strong, positive feedback we are receiving from many companies and look forward to wrapping up the discussions in the near future,” said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were continuing.

One item still under intense discussion is the so-called midterm review of the standard. Environmentalists were concerned that a review stipulation could allow automakers to circumvent increases in fuel efficiency in the latter stages of the agreement.

“Until the White House provides us the full details, we are not in a position to assess whether this a strong proposal or whether there are any significant flaws,” said Roland Hwang, the transportation program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.

A spokesman for General Motors, Greg Martin, said the nation’s largest auto company was optimistic that an agreement could be reached that balanced the economic concerns of the industry with the goal of reducing fuel consumption.

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Obama Sets Goal of One-Third Cut in Oil Imports

With oil supplies from the Middle East now pinched by political upheaval, and with calls growing in Congress for expanded domestic oil and gas production, the president referred in his speech to a similar run-up in energy prices in 2008.

“Now here’s the thing — we’ve been down this road before,” Mr. Obama said. “Remember, it was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon. I remember because I was in the middle of a presidential campaign.”

He continued: “Because it was also the height of political season, so you had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians, they were waving their three-point-plans for two-dollar-a-gallon gas. You remember that: ‘Drill, baby, drill’ and all of that. And none of it would really do anything to solve the problem.”

Saying there were no quick fixes to the nation’s oil addiction, Mr. Obama went on to propose a mix of measures, none of them new, to wean the nation off the barrel.

He called for a fuel-saving strategy of producing more electric cars, converting trucks to run on natural gas, building new refineries to brew billions of gallons of biofuels and setting new fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles. Congress has been debating similar measures for years.

“The only way for America’s energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re going to have to find ways to boost our efficiency so that we use less oil. We’ve got to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy that also produce less carbon pollution that is threatening our climate. And we have to do it quickly.”

He pointed out that since the first Arab oil embargo in 1973, the nation had a tendency to panic when gasoline prices rise, and to fall back into old fuel-guzzling habits when prices recede.

“We cannot keep going from shock when gas prices go up to trance when gas prices go back down,” he said. “We can’t rush to propose action when prices are high, then push the snooze button when they go down again. We can’t keep doing that. The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity and security on a resource that will eventually run out.”

More than half of the oil burned in the United States today comes from overseas and from Mexico and Canada.

The president repeated his assertion that, despite the frightening situation at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex in Japan, nuclear power would remain an important source of electricity in the United States for decades to come.

“It’s important to recognize that nuclear energy doesn’t emit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” he said, noting that nuclear power now provides about one-fifth of domestic electricity supplies. “Those of us concerned about climate change know that nuclear power, if it’s safe, can make a significant contribution to the climate change question. And I’m determined to ensure that it’s safe.”

He said he had directed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to undertake a comprehensive safety review of the 104 reactors operating in the United States.

He also responded to members of Congress and oil industry executives who have claimed that the administration had choked off domestic oil and gas production by imposing costly new regulations and by blocking exploration on millions of acres of potentially oil-rich tracts on shore and off.

He noted that the administration had put in place new safeguards after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last April, and had begun to reissue drilling permits that had been stalled while the industry demonstrated that it could safely resume operations. And he noted that the energy industry already had leases covering vast areas that it was not using.

“So any claim that my administration is responsible for gas prices because we’ve shut down oil production — any claim like that is simply untrue,” the president said. “It might make for a useful political sound bite — but it doesn’t track with reality.

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