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Fuel Efficiency Just Became Much More Important

Two widely cited University of Michigan transportation researchers urge consumers to drive more fuel efficient vehicles to reduce their own carbon emissions as President Trump works to relax vehicle fuel economy standards.
April 2, 2017, 5am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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As President Trump turns back the clock on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, individual actions to reduce one's own carbon footprint become ever more important. According to a paper (pdf) written by University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle in support of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the most effective action a person concerned about climate change can do is to drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.

Sivak and Schoettle, who monitor the fuel economy of new vehicles purchased (as opposed to manufactured) on a monthly basis, have found that after gas prices began falling in July  2014, the average miles per gallon flatlined after having risen from 21 miles per gallon for model year 2008 to 25 mpg for model year 2014. [See graph].

"The main reason was the drop in the price of gasoline to $2.14 in 2016 from $3.36 a gallon in 2014" write Sivak and Schoettle in a New York Times Sunday Review opinion. Average gas prices on March 29 were $2.29.

Now, fueling a less fuel-efficient but more spacious vehicle like an S.U.V. or pickup truck costs no more than fueling a small sedan did a few years ago. And buyers have responded by buying more of those bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles.

And the auto sales figures reflect that preference larger vehicles. Last year, light trucks, a category of passenger vehicles that include popular sport utility and crossover vehicles, outsold more fuel-efficient cars, accounting for a record 61 percent of auto sales. In fact, those sales figures were indirectly referenced by Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt as justification for reducing vehicle emissions standards.

"We ought to focus on fuel efficiency for cars that people really want to buy," Pruitt stated on a Sunday news show on March 26 (posted here).

On March 15, President Trump announced that he had ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation to reopen the review of fuel efficiency standards for model year 2022-2025 passenger vehicles in order to ease the Obama-era ruling.

Notwithstanding Trump's executive order on Tuesday to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, emissions from U.S. power plants continue to decrease while those from transportation are on the rise, according to research (pdf) by Sivak and Schoettle posted here last July.

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Published on Saturday, March 25, 2017 in The New York Times
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