By deciding to set the first fuel efficiency standards for big-rig trucks, President Obama on Friday handed environmentalists a victory, but one that the vehicle industry said it was happy to embrace.
At a televised Rose Garden ceremony at the White House, Obama signed a memorandum ordering federal agencies to prepare plans for the fuel efficiency standards.
The president argued that the standards were needed to ease the United States' dependency on foreign oil and help reduce greenhouse gases and pollutants. The memorandum also directed the agencies to push for new alternative fuels and to help develop electric cars.
"I believe that it's possible, in the next 20 years, for vehicles to use half the fuel and produce half the pollution that they do today," Obama said.
Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Department of Transportation to develop fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2014 to 2018.
The agencies will also extend standards for cars and light-duty trucks to model year 2017 and beyond. Last month, the administration announced new standards averaging 35.5 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks for the 2012-2016 model years, about 10 mpg more than current levels.
"Today's announcement builds on the existing program and could deliver even greater oil savings, pollution reductions, and consumer savings in the future," said Brendan Bell, an analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit that works on environmental and other issues.
A recent report by the group and Calstart, a clean-technology consortium, estimated that increasing such vehicles' fuel economy could create as many as 124,000 jobs nationwide by 2030 and save truckers and consumers $24 billion through reduced fuel costs that year.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers praised the effort because it would set a clear national standard.
"The federal government is looking 15 years down the road and uniting all the diverse stakeholders to work toward the same national goal," trade group President Dave McCurdy said in a statement. Alliance members include GM, Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.
California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been a leading voice on the issue, said, "I applaud President Obama for continuing to take action on this issue and working to enact policies that will make us globally competitive."