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EPA gets it right

With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon this summer, everyone who drives can appreciate the beauty of vehicles designed to go twice as far on a tank of fuel than today's models — including the people who build cars. Some ideas simply make too much sense to stir much controversy.

That's why even the U.S. auto industry has embraced the new fuel efficiency standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency this week. The rules will require all new cars and trucks to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, nearly double the fuel efficiency of the U.S. fleet in 2008. The EPA says the higher-gas-mileage cars will save consumers thousands of dollars at the pump over the life of their vehicles and at the same time reduce air pollution from exhaust emissions — along with the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

The Obama administration, which pushed hard for the changes, is calling the new standards nothing less than historic. They expand on the current rule for so-called Corporate Average Fuel Economy (better known as the CAFE standard) under which cars and trucks have to average 29 miles per gallon, with gradual increases to 35.6 miles per gallon by 2016. Carmakers and dealers once complained that the increased cost of producing more fuel-efficient vehicles would put them out of business, but progress since 2008 has been so rapid that they now feel confident they can achieve the higher standard.

All of which leads to one obvious question: Why are Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other leaders in his party opposing a requirement that future cars be more economical to operate, less harmful to the environment and designed in ways that reduce our nation's dependence on Mideast oil?

Mr. Romney says he is against the new rules because they will make new cars more expensive to buy and because the EPA has no business telling automakers how to build their products. Nor is he apparently keen on cutting air pollution, either. Last year he vowed to "get the EPA out of its effort to manage carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles and trucks" if elected.

And his solution to our dependence on oil suppliers in unstable regions of the world" Simply drill more at home, he says (remember "Drill, baby, drill"?) — even though increasing domestic production will never make America energy independent unless we also get serious about conservation.

Granted, it will cost the auto industry more to produce cars and trucks that get better gas mileage, and manufacturers inevitably will pass those increased costs on to consumers. But U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the higher sticker prices will be far outweighed by what consumers save on gas. Even if car prices rose by $2,000 to $3,000, officials estimate, drivers would come out ahead by about $8,000 in fuel savings by 2025. "You put better technology in the car and the price is going to go up," Mr. LaHood predicted. "But it goes up a fraction of what you save on gas."

Making more fuel-efficient cars is also one of the best ways of curbing the carbon emissions from engine exhausts that are polluting the atmosphere and contributing to global warming and climate change. The new EPA standards would cut carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks by 2 billion metric tons over the lifetime of vehicles sold, in addition to saving $1.7 trillion in fuel costs. While you can't put an exact monetary value on the effects of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the benefits can certainly be felt in terms of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The fact that Mr. Romney thinks none of this is important suggests he is either so wholly in the pockets of the oil and gas industry that he simply doesn't care, or that his opposition to more fuel-efficient vehicles is driven completely by politics: If the Democrats proposed it, it must be bad. But protecting the environment, conserving energy and reducing our dependence on foreign oil aren't partisan issues, and only someone with a breathtakingly shortsighted, cynical view of the nation's needs could believe otherwise.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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