Obama Launches Drive For Fuel-Efficient Vehicles
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. This afternoon at the White House, there was an unusual event. People who don't often stand up for the cameras together were shoulder to shoulder behind the president as he unveiled ambitious new environmental regulations.
Those regulations will dramatically increase the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks. President Obama also proposed a new national standard for tailpipe emissions. That standard is aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. NPR's Don Gonyea was there, in the White House Rose Garden.
DON GONYEA: The president himself began the proceedings by remarking on the collection of individuals and interests on hand.
President BARACK OBAMA: This is an extraordinary gathering. Here, we have today, standing behind me, along with Ron Gettelfinger and leadership of the UAW, we have 10 of the world's largest auto manufacturers. We have environmental advocates as well as elected officials from all across the country.
GONYEA: GM, Chrysler and Ford were there. So were Japanese and German auto companies. In the audience were the governors of Michigan, Massachusetts and California - the state with the toughest emission laws in the country. Remarkably, they all were smiling - even the auto execs, who have long fought tougher fuel economy rules.
Here was the president saying that each automaker's fleet of new vehicles would have to average 35 and half miles per gallon by the year 2016 - cars and trucks, SUVs and minivans. That's 10 miles a gallons higher than what the vehicles are averaging today. Further, the president said, conflicting state laws on emissions would now be replaced by a tough, new, national standard.
Pres. OBAMA: In the past, an agreement such of this - such as this would've been considered impossible. It's no secret that these are folks who've occasionally been at odds for years, even decades. In fact, some of the groups here have been embroiled in lawsuits against one another.
GONYEA: The White House says the increases will make cars and trucks more expensive by some $1,300. But the president added that using less gas will mean the operating cost of each vehicle goes down.
Pres. OBAMA: And this is a point I want to emphasize: If you buy a car, your investment in a more fuel-efficient vehicle, as a result of this standard, will pay off in just three years.
GONYEA: After the session, California's Governor Schwarzenegger was very pleased with the agreement. He noted that Mr. Obama is popular and has the standing to push for such change while struggling car makers have little leverage to resist.
Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): All of a sudden, the car manufacturers, you know, needed money, they need the taxpayers' money, they need the federal government to help them. So, in order to get that help, I'm sure that President Obama said okay we're going to give you the help. But here is what you need to do.
GONYEA: In Detroit, David Sedgwick is the editor of the Automotive News.
Mr. DAVID SEDGWICK (Editor, Automotive News): If you gave truth serum to the auto executives, they'd have some pretty serious reservations about this.
GONYEA: But, Sedgwick says, there seems to have been the sense that President Obama was committed to an increase in the fuel economy standards. So they decided they'd better get on board - especially when they had a chance for something important to them: the single national standard.
Mr. SEDGWICK: California won't have its own, unique standard, and there won't be 14 states - and perhaps others - following California's standard. That was the nightmare scenario for the automakers. That was completely unworkable, and they were willing to give up an awful lot to get that one, nationwide standard.
GONYEA: But they still need to figure out what the cars they will build will look like.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.
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