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President Barack Obama claimed a record of accomplishment as he accepted the Democratic nomination to run for a second term — including a victory on one issue he said hadn’t been touched in three decades.
"After 30 years of inaction, we raised fuel standards so that by the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks will go twice as far on a gallon of gas," he told delegates to the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 6, 2012.
We rated Obama’s original presidential campaign pledge to raise fuel economy standards a Promise Kept.
But we wondered, was it true that "after 30 years of inaction," fuel standards will double for cars and trucks by 2025?
That might be news to President George W. Bush.
What Obama did
In August 2011, the Obama administration issued new federal fuel economy rules that set an average fuel efficiency goal of 54.5 miles per gallon for the 2025 model year.
That’s nearly twice the 27.6 miles per gallon standard for 2011, for cars and for trucks.
So far, so good.
But we paused at Obama’s claim that his administration took action "after 30 years of inaction."
Mileage standards in the United States have been in place since the 1970s Arab oil embargo.
Back then, Congress passed the Energy Policy Conservation Act of 1975, which boosted the fuel economy of cars and light trucks. "Corporate average fuel economy," or CAFE, standards reached 27.5 miles per gallon in 1985 — then hovered there.
Obama’s speech might have left you thinking nothing else happened until his administration took charge.
But in 2007, Bush signed the Energy Independence and Securities Act, which required "substantial, continuing increases in fuel economy standards," according to a helpful history lesson at auto information site Edmunds.com.
Bush noted at his signing ceremony that the law marked the first statutory increase in fuel economy standards since they were enacted — something he had asked for.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., then speaker of the House, remarked on the historic nature of the bipartisan legislation, writing that its auto efficiency reforms were "the first in more than 30 years."
And that law laid the groundwork for Obama’s rule changes.
Bush’s administration left for Obama’s the job of finalizing standards, something it hadn’t yet done "because of the uncertainty gripping car companies," Reuters reported.
"A lot of what Obama's doing is really extending what President Bush started," Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman for Edmunds.com, told PolitiFact in January.
That’s not what Obama’s sweeping oversimplification suggested.
The president also said that "by the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks will go twice as far on a gallon of gas." That’s what the new rules require. Edmunds.com reports that "regulators, environmentalists and most automakers agree that existing technologies can be used to achieve this plan's goals." There’s just debate about their cost. While automakers have so far met boosted standards by updating traditional engines, Anwyl says those relatively inexpensive gains won't carry companies through lofty goals set for 2025.
Still, 13 automakers in August announced support for the new standards, signaling they believe they’ll be able to achieve the gains.
Obama said, "After 30 years of inaction, we raised fuel standards so that by the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks will go twice as far on a gallon of gas." The Obama administration launched new fuel efficiency standards that significantly raise the bar for automakers over the next decade.
But the rules, which raise standards from their 1985 levels, grew from a bipartisan law requested and signed by Bush. We’ll give Obama credit for pushing for a long-term agreement with aggressive goals and working with automakers who say they’ll get it done. But he’s on shakier ground when he gives the impression his administration was solely responsible. We rate his claim Half True.
CQ Transcriptswire, "PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA DELIVERS REMARKS AT THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION," Sept. 6, 2012 (subscription only)
White House Blog, "President Obama Announces New Fuel Economy Standards," July 29, 2011
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Obama Administration Finalizes Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standards, Aug. 28, 2012
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "CAFE - Fuel Economy," accessed Sept. 5, 2012
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "DOT, EPA Set Aggressive National Standards for Fuel Economy and First Ever Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels For Passenger Cars and Light Trucks," April 1, 2010
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Model Years 2012-2016: Final Rule," accessed Sept. 10, 2012
U.S. Department of Transportation, "U.S. Department of Transportation Posts New Fuel Economy Standards for Model Year 2011 Cars and Light Trucks," March 27, 2009
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Summary Of Fuel Economy Performance," 4/28/11 (PDF)
PolitiFact, "Ad says President Barack Obama put in place 'historic fuel efficiency standards,'" Jan. 6, 2012
Politifact Obameter, "Raise fuel economy standards," updated April 5, 2010 (Promise Kept)
Political Transcript Wire, "PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH DELIVERS REMARKS AT SIGNING OF H.R. 6, THE ENERGY INDEPENDENCE AND SECURITY ACT OF 2007," Dec. 19, 2007 (via Nexis)
U.S. Newswire, "Pelosi to Hubbard: Bipartisan Energy Legislation Addresses White House Concerns," Dec. 5, 2007 (via Nexis)
White House, "Improving Energy Security, American Competitiveness and Job Creation, and
Environmental Protection through a Transformation of our Nation's Fleet of Cars and Trucks," May 21, 2010 (PDF)
Washington Post, Obama, Democrats will stress administration’s track record on energy, environment, Sept. 4, 2012
Reuters, "Obama begins reversing Bush climate policies," Jan. 26, 2009
Edmunds.com, "FAQ: New Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards," Nov. 10, 2011
Interview with Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman for Edmunds.com, Jan. 4, 2012
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