Clean cars for Illinois

Transportation accounts for one-third of the U.S.’s CO2 releases. Changes in Illinois transportation can help limit this global warming gas. In a recent presentation, Joe Schacter of the Environmental Law and Policy Center stated that Illinoisans drove their personal vehicles 107.9 billion miles in 2005. Their travels averaged 20.8 miles per gallon, which burned 5.2 billion gallons of gasoline while releasing 52 million tons of carbon dioxide. For each gallon of gasoline consumed, roughly 20 pounds of CO2 are released to the atmosphere.

Burning 5.2 billion gallons a year at prices near $3 per gallon means fuel expenditures of $15 billion. With two-thirds of those expenditures leaving the state, such car travel is a burden on the Illinois economy. An August Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine article pointed out that Illinois could save billions of dollars by using more fuel- efficient vehicles. Beyond driving less and carpooling more, the ELPC believes the time may be ripe to upgrade auto emission standards for illinois.

According to a University of Illinois study, if we adopted vehicle emission standards similar to those in California and reached a vehicle fleet average of 27 miles per gallon, we would buy a billion gallons less fuel each year. Two-thirds of the savings would stay in Illinois to recirculate within the economy, producing up to 38,500 new jobs. Another study by Cambridge Systematics and the Harvard School of Public Health commissioned by the ELPC documents improvements in air quality and subsequent reductions in asthma attacks and related lung conditions. Another major benefit would be a 32 percent reduction in carbon dioxide releases, which contribute to global warming.

When the initial auto emission standards were implemented in the Clean Air Act of 1970, California was already controlling auto emissions, so the legislation allowed them to continue to run their own program. It also allowed other states the option of developing their own programs. Ten other states on the east coast have adopted California standards since then.

To meet the tougher emission standards, the automobile industry decided to manufacture two different categories of vehicles. States with higher emission standards require cleaner cars while the industry builds less clean cars for the rest of the country.

The clean car market constitutes 30 percent of all cars sold in the United States. If Illinois and Wisconsin enacted higher emission standards, the market share for clean cars would total 40 percent. At that point, Schacter believes the auto industry may be approaching the point where it would be advantageous to make all cars clean to achieve greater economies of scale. While cleaner cars cost up to $400 more per model, eliminating the two track manufacturing system could help lower those costs. Given high fuel costs, increasing fuel mileage by 30 percent is predicted to pay for itself within a year.

Additional options for cutting back on fuel consumption through transportation include foregoing single person vehicle use, supporting bike lanes and mass transit and moving closer to one’s place of work. Cutting back on our oil dependence includes using ethanol and biodiesel fuels where appropriate. Purchasers of new cars should look at the most fuel-efficient vehicles, especially hybrids.

We need to initiate global warming solutions not only for the health of our planet and ourselves but as a means to modernize our economy to keep up with rapidly changing gains in efficiency occurring internationally. We need cleaner, more diverse transportation choices now.

From the Oct. 11-17, 2006, issue

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