Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A new report by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that during the past five years fuel economy in vehicles increased by 16 percent while carbon dioxide emissions fell 13 percent.
The annual report tracked the fuel economy of vehicles sold in the United States and shows that high tech vehicles are making a difference.
“Today’s report shows that we are making strides toward saving families money at the pump, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cleaning up the air we breathe,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation. “The historic steps taken to improve fuel economy and reduce dependence on foreign oil are accelerating this progress.”
Last year alone showed a one-year increase of 1.4 miles per gallon for cars and trucks, according to the report.
While the results indicate improvement in some important categories and would lessen the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, it may not necessarily result in the kind of clean air quality that would mitigate the inversions that plague Utah in the summer and winter.
“What they have to do along with the fuel economy improvements is continue to tighten the vehicle emission standards to ensure that by burning less fuel results in less particulate matter,” said Glade Sowards, environmental scientist with the Utah Division of Air Quality.
Particle pollution is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health problems.
Fine particles, such as those found in smoke and haze can be directly emitted from sources such as wild fires or they can form when gases emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles react in the air.
Sowards said the EPA is expected to announce a new program soon aimed at reducing pollution and cleaning up air quality so that areas like the Wasatch Front can breathe a little easier.
“As the fuel economy improves, we’ll have improvement in the local air pollution problem,” Soward said.
Environmental consciousness is one of the main factors that prompted Salt Lake resident Zach Kahn to purchase a hybrid electric car for his next personal vehicle. Cahn and his wife bought a new Toyota Prius at a local dealership on Saturday.
“I wanted a car that gets better gas mileage and (emitted) fewer emissions,” Cahn said. “It’s pretty clear that Salt Lake City has an air pollution problem and I felt like it was time to do my part to cut that (down).”
Cahn said he has been a long-time proponent of clean air and clean energy technology, so buying a fuel efficient, low emission vehicle was a logical step toward helping improve the local environment.
“Finally thought it was time to put my money where my mouth is,” he said.
The EPA report, titled “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2012, said that the expected 1.4 miles per gallon of fuel improvement was based on sales estimates provided by automakers for 2012, the reported stated. The agency’s projections showed a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and an increase in average fuel economy to nearly 24 mpg.
These numbers represent the largest annual improvements since the EPA began reporting on fuel economy.
The current program cuts greenhouse gas emissions and would double fuel economy standards by 2025. The standards are projected to save households $1.7 trillion in fuel costs over the period, resulting in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 per vehicle by 2025.