New federal regulations set a strict standard for fuel ... New federal regulations set a strict standard for fuel efficiency (, Flickr)

Final rules governing 2012-2016 model year fuel economy standards were signed today, regulations that will ultimately push our average national mileage to 35.5 miles per gallon. President Obama hailed the new plan, saying it “will reduce our dependence on oil while helping folks spend a little less at the pump.” The increase in fuel economy will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil, according the President.

Savings at the pump could be substantial, as the new rules would tack on an average of 8.2 miles per gallon to the 2011 fuel economy standard, set at 27.3 miles per gallon. Consumers may see an increase in sticker prices as a result of the new plan, though estimates peg that cost at less than $1,000. “The average U.S. consumer who purchases a vehicle outright is estimated to save enough in lower fuel costs over the first three years to offset these higher vehicle costs,” according to the government. There’s no guarantee that every new model coming to market will carry improved fuel economy, however, as regulations are still based on fleet averages.

The new rules were drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the first such collaboration by the two agencies under the Obama administration’s National Fuel Efficiency Policy. Besides increasing the requirements for fuel efficiency, this new policy also regulates automotive emissions of greenhouse gasses for the first time. It will also unify the previous regulatory framework, in which California established its own emissions requirements. This forced some auto companies to sell different versions of their cars in California, an additional expense that will no longer be incurred by the manufacturers.

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