MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Today, the Obama administration put new fuel standards in place. They're designed to nearly double how far average cars and light trucks will have to go on a gallon of gasoline.
As NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, the new standards have the backing of environmental groups and carmakers. And they've become a popular talking point in the presidential race.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: At a campaign event in Iowa today, President Obama said the new standards would not only make cars and trucks more efficient, they would also help fight climate change.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That's going to save you money at the pump. That will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a level roughly equivalent to a year's worth of emissions from all the cars in the world.
SHOGREN: America's dependence on foreign oil already is shrinking, and the new policy is designed to reduce it even more. The new standards are designed to make cars and light trucks on average get 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But that doesn't mean that cars would actually go that far on a gallon of gas. The government calculates its standards using a laboratory test that doesn't match today's driving styles. New cars and SUVs on average would go about 40 miles per gallon in real-world driving.
Automakers say these rules are ambitious, but they back them. They agreed with the rules in part because California was threatening to go ahead with its own standard. Car companies wanted to ensure that there would be one set of rules for the whole nation. Gloria Bergquist is the vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. She says companies already are producing a wide array of energy-efficient vehicles, like hybrids and electric cars, but she says consumers have a role to play too.
GLORIA BERGQUIST: So to achieve these higher fuel economy standards, we have the technologies on sale today. Now, we need to encourage consumers to buy them in larger numbers.
SHOGREN: Not everyone is on board. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says these fuel standards are part of a pattern of overregulation by the Obama administration that hurts jobs.
AMANDA HENNEBERG: Governor Romney opposes, you know, these extreme standards that President Obama has imposed which will limit the choices available to American families.
SHOGREN: Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg says the president always talks about how the rules would save consumers thousands of dollars at the pump, but she says he doesn't tell the whole story.
HENNEBERG: He always forgets to mention that the savings will be wiped out by having to pay thousands of dollars more up front for unproven technology that they may not even want.
SHOGREN: The Obama administration contends the upfront costs will be more than compensated by the $8,000 consumers will save on gas during the life of a car. Environmental groups say that the rules will have a big impact, especially combined with earlier rules that boosted fuel economy through 2016. Michael Brune is the Sierra Club's executive director.
MICHAEL BRUNE: So it sounds hyperbolic. It is a little hyperbolic, but it actually is true. It's - this step will reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than any other step taken by any other country so far. And that's why we're so excited.
SHOGREN: The environmental groups worry that if Romney were president, he would undo these rules. And they say this should show voters what a sharp contrast there is between the president and his challenger. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.
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