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.
The program is also expected to save 12 billion barrels of oil over that period and reduce oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day – as much as half of the oil imported from OPEC every day, the report stated.
The report attributed the improvements to the rapid adoption of more efficient technologies, an increasing number of high fuel economy vehicles, and the fact that many automakers are selling vehicles that can meet more stringent future fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards.
Vehicle weight and performance were two of the most important engineering parameters that help determine a vehicle's emissions and fuel economy.
The projected gains for 2012 more than made up for a slight dip in fuel economy in 2011, the reported said. Compared to five years ago, consumers have twice as many hybrid and diesel vehicle choices, a growing set of plug-in electric vehicle options, and a six-fold increase in the number of car models with combined city/highway fuel economy of 30 mpg or higher, the report stated.
The U.S. personal vehicle market is diversifying, and consumers now have a much broader range of vehicle choices with respect to fuel economy/CO2 emissions performance and powertrain technology, the report said.
The number of SUV, pickup, minivan, and van models that have combined EPA label values of 20 mpg or more have increased by 71 percent — from 38 models in 2007 to 65 models in 2012.
There are almost three times more SUVs with combined labels of 25 mpg or more and 6 times more cars with ratings of 30 mpg or more. The number of cars with at least 40-mpg labels has increased from 2 in 2007 up to 15 in 2012.