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New fuel standards unveiled

Greens, Democrats praise efficiency measures

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As part of a push to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the Obama administration Wednesday unveiled new fuel efficiency standards for cars, SUVs and pickups that will nearly double the required vehicle miles per gallon by 2025.

The proposal follows President Obama's agreement with 13 major automakers, announced in July, to increase fuel efficiency to the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 — up from the current standard of 28.3 miles per gallon. It applies to 2017-2025 cars and light truck models.

The White House said the proposal would slash 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions while saving drivers $1.7 trillion in fuel costs and reducing oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day, roughly a quarter of the current level of foreign imports. Administration officials also claim the new regulations would save consumers an average of $8,000 over the life of each vehicle.

The new rules were long-anticipated after Congress passed a law in 2007 requiring the Transportation Department to set fuel economy standards for cars and trucks at the highest or "maximum feasible" level each year between 2011 and 2030.

The administration will likely finalize the new standards by July after a public comment and review period that will include several public hearings around the country. California plans to issue its proposal for new standards for model years 2017 to 2025 on Dec. 7 with the goal of finalizing them by January.

Environmentalists welcomed the news, as did a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In a Tuesday letter anticipating the White House announcement, a largely Democratic group of 109 members, including Rep. John D. Dingell, the dean of the delegation who represents Detroit, commended the president.

"[The proposal] will increase our national and economic security in an unprecedented way by dramatically decreasing our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum," they wrote.

But many Republicans are equally ardent in their opposition. More than 60 House Republicans last month vowed to stop the new standards and prevent them from being finalized. They argue that new regulations would kill jobs and increase vehicle prices.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, a Republican from California who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, argued that raising fuel efficiency standards would actually increase vehicle costs for consumers by $3,000 and cost the country $157 billion to implement.

"Beyond jobs that would be lost as a result of this rule, there are concerns that these new regulations were crafted in a manner inconsistent with laws and basic standards of transparency that had the effect of hiding special interest agendas," he said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the new rule would add an average of $2,000 to the price of each new passenger vehicle sold by 2025 and cost the federal government $157 billion to implement, according to a draft of the proposal posted on the NHTSA website.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers embraced the overall goal of increasing fuel efficiency, but also voiced reservations that the new standards were too aggressive and did not account for consumers who may decide not to purchase higher-priced cars.

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