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Getting to 60 mpg in fifteen years

Federal and state officials working jointly on new national mileage standards for cars and trucks can do America’s businesses a big favor by boosting those standards sharply.
by Mindy S. LubberThe Hill Posted on Sep 28, 2010

Federal and state officials working jointly on new national mileage standards for cars and trucks can do America’s businesses a big favor by boosting those standards sharply.

Set to be unveiled this week, the standards should land on the upside of ambitious. I’m eager to see the Administration introduce an average 60 miles per gallon standard for new passenger vehicles in 2025, plus long-haul truck standards that will reduce fuel consumption 35 percent by 2017.

It’s past time. Today’s fuel economy of U.S. cars, SUVs and passenger trucks ranks among the lowest in the world. We pay a huge economic price for that daily.

So it’s time for a change, to the brand of successful business-friendly public policies that work for companies, their employees and consumers. Higher mileage fits that bill. Oil and transportation costs are a significant, ongoing expense for businesses. Volatile prices wrench company budgets while rising costs wreak havoc with the bottom line.

Introducing the 60 mpg/35 percent economy standards would yield a triple win: for businesses able to pour transportation savings into expansion and new job opportunities, for the workers who get those jobs and for consumers who can expect savings from new vehicle efficiencies. We’ll save fuel, cash, and carbon pollution in an environmentally-stressed world.

Congress and the Obama Administration have already taken the important step of raising automobile mileage standards to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. But we can do much better – Europe, China and Japan are already well ahead of us. More importantly, existing and emerging technologies can move us far beyond that number while stemming the transfer of more than $300 billion a year to oil producing countries.

Standards for the decade beyond 2016 are being written now, making this an important moment for America’s economic future. The targets set today are doubly crucial to businesses because they go well beyond immediate bottom-line benefits -- America’s 21st century competitiveness is at stake. Innovations spurred by a 60 mpg standard will in turn seed the following generations of cars – and business success.

The rest of the world isn’t waiting. The race to grab global high-mileage vehicle markets is underway – a race we would be hard-pressed to ignore. While Ford is moving forward more aggressively, and GM is focusing more on fuel efficiency as well, they face stiff competition from foreign companies, including Toyota, Honda and Nissan. In addition, China will be pumping $15 billion into clean cars over the next decade and shooting for 52 mpg by 2020.

If we lag, we lose. And not just with passenger cars. Raising fuel economy in trucks strengthens the businesses that use them by protecting against fuel-price increases beyond their control. Those cost savings boost competitiveness and ripple through the economy.

Getting to 60 mpg in fifteen years is hardly a moon shot if we harness existing technologies and American ingenuity today. Present day technologies for engines, transmissions, materials, electric drives, aerodynamics and more are readily available. What’s needed is a change in our automaking priorities - setting 60 mpg as our new target could cut fuel use by 30 percent, while unleashing additional innovation in the transportation sector.

Can America’s business leaders answer this challenge? Let’s answer first with this reality: Business-as-usual practices are far riskier in today’s world than they used to be. The status quo is a recipe for stagnation and decline.

History has also shown that it’s in the DNA of American industries to meet challenges like this. In everything from getting the lead out of gasoline to curbing the use of ozone-depleting chemicals and reducing acid rain pollution, higher standards from the government stimulated business ingenuity and kept our economy and living standards global leaders.

But time doesn’t stand still: now we have new challenges to meet.

American industry has what it takes to rise to these challenges and deliver the innovation that will put Americans to work, America on the road to a stronger economy and oil dollars back in American wallets. It’s time to start our engines and get our economy up to the new century’s cruising speed -- 60 mpg.

Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres, a leading coalition of investors and public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change.

Read the post at The Hill

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Jim Coburn

Jim Coburn directs Ceres’ efforts to improve mandatory climate and sustainability risk disclosure by corporations. Drawing from his legal background, Jim helps to develop rules and guidance on reporting that strengthen corporate risk management practices and improve investor decisions. He most recently played an integral role in leading the initiative that resulted in the SEC’s issuance of groundbreaking climate disclosure guidance for corporations in 2010.

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