Why the fuel-efficiency breakthrough matters

On a normal day, when congressional Republicans aren’t pushing the economy towards a catastrophe, the deal the White House struck on fuel-efficiency standards would be a pretty major story.

President Obama and his team reached an agreement with the Honda, Hyundai, and the Big Three domestic automakers today to nearly double fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles sold in the United States. Michael Grunwald had a good piece on this today, explaining that the deal represents “a big victory in the fight to reduce our foreign oil addiction, our carbon emissions, and our gasoline costs.”

The final deal will require vehicle fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, which will reduce fuel consumption by 40% and carbon emissions by 50%. That is real change. Before Obama took office, fuel-efficiency standards hadn’t really budged since the Reagan era; now he’s ratcheted them up twice.

Yes, environmentalists had pushed for 60 m.p.g. And the White House had floated a compromise of 56.2. But 54.5 is pretty close, considering that last year’s standards were only 28.3. And the carve-out that the White House agreed to for pickup trucks sounds reasonable; pickups are often used to pick up heavy stuff. SUVs, despite their cheetah guards and rugged Dakota/Yukon/Expedition-style branding, are generally used to pick up the kids at soccer practice. […]

Obama was right to cut a deal with the Big Three, along with Honda and Hyundai, up front. Every U.S. President since Nixon has talked about ending our dependence on Middle East oil, but these standards represent the most significant effort to do something about it in a long time.

Everything about this deal strikes me as major step in the right direction. The new standards are good for consumers; good for the environment; good for U.S. energy policy; and probably even good for the manufacturers themselves. For all the talk about how we can start reducing carbon emissions and combat global warming, these new fuel-efficiency standards will make a real difference — by some measures, this new agreement will reduce carbon dioxide pollution by over 6 billion metric tons.

And from a political perspective, what’s the best part of this? It doesn’t require Congress to intervene and screw it up. No filibusters, no hostage strategies, no Tea Party tantrums. The Obama administration compromised with the auto companies, and the resulting agreement will benefit all of us, whether Republicans like it or not.