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Transcript of Secretary Buttigieg Remarks, CAFE Standards Announcement

Friday, April 1, 2022

Hello, I’m really pleased to be hosting you at the Department of Transportation, and so pleased with today’s announcement. You know it was almost 5 decades ago, during Republican Gerald Ford's administration, that DOT introduced those first-ever CAFE standards, as Steve mentioned. Started in the wake of the OPEC oil crisis, because our predecessors knew that better fuel efficiency meant reducing people’s pain at the pump, and that it would reduce our dependence as a country on foreign oil. And today, as you walk, you may have seen as you came in, when you come down the halls of this atrium in this wonderful headquarters we have, you pass photos of past Transportation Secretaries, Democrats and Republicans, who advanced CAFE standards further. So what we’re doing today is taking that next step in the ongoing journey of pushing forward as far as technology can take us, with faith in American innovators and workers, and with an understanding of how important the cost of transportation is to families and to our country. Today’s news means real relief and benefit to families across America, and it wouldn’t have been possible without all of you.  

So I want to thank everyone who has had a hand in bringing us to this moment. Beginning with President Biden and Vice President Harris who are so focused on bringing relief to Americans. White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, who last time we were here was to discuss how to charge your car while it’s parked, today we’re talking about the internal combustion side so I don’t get to have as much fun with that, but we’re glad you’re here because it’s always good news when Advisor McCarthy is here. Let me echo the appreciation for Representative Debbie Dingell, we’re honored to have you here and so thankful for your work and your commitment to the auto workers, the companies, the industry that powers this country in so many ways. And all of my colleagues here at the Department, at NHTSA, Dr. Cliff, who you heard from a moment ago, Ann Carlson, and their whole team. As well as EPA Administrator Michael Regan and their team for collaborating with us as they work their side of the tailpipe emissions issues. 

I want to thank our friends in the environmental movement – for years of hard work to reduce pollution, fight climate change, and protect Americans.  

To our friends in labor, who are the backbone of our manufacturing and supply chains and transportation systems – thank you for your commitment to high quality, well-paying jobs in this country.    

And to our friends in the auto industry, we are so thankful for your partnership. Because working together right now we have a lot of things we have to face and address and respond to: safety; making electric vehicles more accessible and affordable for more people; ensuring you all have enough chips and minerals to meet your manufacturing potential in America. But today, I’m thanking America’s car companies for their hard work and innovation in response to these high standards to improve the fuel economy of their fleets.   

Today, with all of these key partners represented, we are proud to announce America’s new fuel economy standards.   

Car manufacturers will be required to produce cars, minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks, that get better gas mileage than ever before.   

And the benefits are going to be real for drivers across America. Starting in model year 2024 when these standards take effect, Americans buying a new vehicle will spend less on gas than they would have if we hadn’t taken this step.  

And again, this is why presidents of both parties have supported CAFE Standards: by setting a high but consistent bar for the industry, the Standards have helped spur the innovative potential of American car companies, which has saved families money, and reduced America’s consumption of oil by 5 million barrels every single day.   

Before the CAFE Standards started in the 1970s, the average vehicle got about 13 miles per gallon. With the standards we’re announcing today, by 2026, the average vehicle will get 49 miles per gallon.   

This isn't about only dollars and cents. I would argue this actually connects to important forms of personal and economic freedom and security in this country, in at least three ways.  

First of all, it gives people the freedom to get where they need to go more affordably. When you can afford to get to work every day, when you can afford to bring your family to a movie or an event or something a few counties away, you are better able to do so thanks to the increased affordability that comes with better fuel efficiency. And if someone can’t afford to get to work – or when the cost of the commute means there’s not enough room in that family budget to take the family out to dinner, or even have to rethink visiting family members as often as you used to, and these are all real things happening to Americans – then life can feel more restricted than it does free. When you can't afford to get to where you need to be, not much else matters.  

And that has been the hard reality for too many Americans in recent years.   

In fact, transportation is the second largest cost for American families, behind only housing. Middle-income and low-income households spend almost 20% of their paycheck on transportation.  

Now this issue has been building for years. Of course it is also made worse any time time there is a development or a shock anywhere around the world that disrupts gas prices, like we're seeing now.  

We can take some of the pain out of that by ensuring that new cars can go further on less gas – which is exactly what today’s announcement will deliver.  

I won’t hit you with too much math, but just a little bit to illustrate this. 

  • Today’s model year ’21, the standard is 36 miles per gallon. By 2026, we’ll be over 48. So what that means is a 33% gain.  
  • It means if you’re filling up 4 times a month, that would become 3 times a month by model year 2026 based on those averages.     
  • And of course, that would save the typical American household hundreds of dollars.  
  • So it’s is a win for every driver in America, but I would note it’s a particularly big win for drivers in rural areas, where residents cover more distance every day, and fill up more frequently.  

Okay second, we’ve got to zoom out and talk about what today’s progress means for our economic and national security, the freedom for our country to chart its future without being subject to other countries and to the decisions being made in the boardrooms of energy companies.   

For years, we have warned about the dangers of dependence on foreign oil – and made important progress through energy efficiency and ramping up domestic energy production, which is part of why when President Biden made the bold decision to ban Russian oil, our country was better positioned to handle it than many others.  

So we’re less dependent on foreign oil - and that protects us from shortages at fuel stations - but here's the thing to remember: even if all of the oil we use in the USA were made in the USA, the price of it is still subject to powers and dynamics outside the USA. Which means that until we achieve a form of energy independence that is based on clean energy created here at home, American citizens will still be vulnerable to wild price hikes like we’re seeing right now during Putin’s war. Oil prices are determined by global markets, manipulated by cartels and speculators –not determined by U.S. markets alone, and certainly not singlehandedly decided by the U.S. government.  

These challenges are going to continue to remain, and even through those challenges, this Administration is undertaking bold actions to help Americans through this painful moment. The President announced yesterday the release of 1 million barrels a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to counteract rising prices. And he will seek to require oil and gas companies, sitting on the thousands of approved but unused permits and idle wells on federal land, to either start producing or pay a fee.  

As we look ahead, we cannot let families’ futures, or our national economy, be decided in oil company boardrooms. Today’s rule is going to save 234 billion gallons of fuel by 2050, and move us into a less dependent future.   

And that brings me to my third and last point: that today is of course also about climate change, and the freedom of Americans to thrive where they live without the burdens of extreme weather and rising water levels driving them from their homes or destroying their lives, livelihoods, and property.  

Communities across the country are dealing with increasingly extreme weather – unprecedented heatwaves, wildfires, a drought in the West that’s lasted longer than the Dust Bowl, rising waters and more powerful hurricanes in the South and East, floods and other threats to agriculture in the Midwest, and more.   

We estimate that today's rule will prevent 5.5 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide from going into our atmosphere between now and 2050. That is a massive deal.  

Today is a big step, and just one part of an all-of-the-above strategy by the Biden-Harris Administration to accelerate our path to cleaner energy and electric vehicles, and to lower the costs that American families pay each month.  And we are calling on Congress once again to pass the President’s plan to do just that, to include tax cuts to make electric vehicles more affordable for more people, which among other things would take, for example, the American-made electric pickup trucks we saw a lot of ads for during the Super Bowl, from around 40 thousand bucks down into the 20s. We could do that through policy that is available right now. 

And that’s one example of our long-term vision, of which today is a big step in the right direction. 

So this critical work on CAFE standards puts us in a tradition with the best of those who came before us, and it sets the right course for those we serve today and those who will come after us.  

And again, I want to thank you to everyone who did the hard work to make today possible.