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Washington — Seventy-nine percent of respondents polled by an environmental group want the federal government to keep increasing fuel economy standards for automakers, according to findings released Thursday.

The finding, from the the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council, comes on the heels of a projection from federal regulators that U.S. automakers probably will miss the goal of a 54.5 miles-per-gallon fleetwide average by 2025 that was sent by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2012.

Automakers have seized upon the projection, which stated they may only be able to achieve a fleet-wide average of between 50 and 52.6 mpg by the deadline that was set by the Obama administration in 2012. They argue that federal regulators should consider scaling back the stringent mileage rules when they come up for a mid-term review in 2018.

Pete Altman, director of Federal Campaigns at the NRDC, said the findings of his group show that U.S. residents are in favor of keeping the stringent gas mileage rules in place.

“Our poll shows Americans have just two words to say about clean transportation: ‘Floor it,’” he said in a statement. “Americans want cleaner cars, and better planning that green-lights transportation options that saves money, reduces the use of oil and improves our air, health and quality of life.”

The group said it surveyed 1,012 U.S. adults who are at least 18 years old by telephone. The poll was conducted July 21-24.

The proposed gas mileage rules, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, are beginning to take effect with the 2017 model year. They call for ramping up from the current fleet-wide average of about 34 miles per gallon for cars and trucks that were required in 2016 to the eventual goal of more than 50 mpg by 2025.

The increase starts with a rise to an average of more than 35 mpg for the 2017 models that already are being rolled out. They gradually rise to 41 mpg by 2021.

If the rules for model years after 2021 are left in place when they come up for review in 2018, the mileage standard will increase to about 43 mpg combined for cars and trucks in 2022, before jumping to about 45 mpg in 2023. The final years of the mandate will see a required average of about 47 mpg in 2024, and finally more than 55 mpg for cars and about 40 mpg for trucks in 2025.

Auto companies that do not meet the higher emission standards will be fined $5.50 for each one-tenth of a mile-per-gallon their average fuel economy falls short of the standard for a model year, multiplied by the total volume of vehicles that are in the fleet that fail to meet the new requirements.

The potential decrease in the mileage rates of U.S. automakers in the new federal projection is attributed in part to gas prices that have been lower than anticipated when the mileage rules were crafted in 2012. Even though automakers may be able to build cars that meet the toughest fuel standards, customers have been buying SUVs and trucks — and it’s the overall average of vehicles sold that counts.

The environmental group said its poll shows “95 percent of Americans want automakers to keep improving fuel economy for cars and trucks, including 97 percent of Democrats, 94 percent of Independents, and 93 percent of Republicans,” however.

The NRDC also said its polling showed “78 percent of Americans agree that ‘state transportation agencies should take vehicle-related carbon pollution and climate change into account when developing transportation plans, and also seek ways to reduce that pollution.’”

Luke Tonachel, director of the Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project at NRDC, said the support shows federal regulators should leave the stringent gas mileage rules in place.

“Because automakers can meet the challenge, Americans are demanding cleaner cars and trucks, and our planet requires cleaner cars, there’s no reason to ease the vehicle fuel economy goals,” Tonachel said in a statement. “The transportation sector is one of the largest sources of carbon pollution. Continuing to strengthen clean vehicle standards is good for America’s consumers — and it’s absolutely critical to bringing about cleaner, healthier air and a more stable climate.”

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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