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January 24, 2012

Speaking Out for Clean Cars

Seven years ago this month, while I was at Rainforest Action Network, we were working with several hundred California residents who were fighting to prevent their electric cars from being seized, crushed, and sold for scrap. These vehicles were fully functioning, economical and, because they were electric, didn't use a drop of gas. Yet they were being pulled off the roads by major automakers -- over the objections of the people who loved driving them. We didn't save all those cars back in 2005, but we did see more clearly than ever that if we want to move America beyond oil, then we need to jump-start the American auto industry.

Fortunately, times have changed. Today, I testified at an EPA hearing in San Francisco to support proposed standards that would raise vehicle efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon, with electric vehicles as one of the primary ways to meet this goal. Here's my brief testimony....

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to California. I'm Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is our nation's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. We were founded by John Muir, who sought to defend Yosemite Valley and help create and expand Yosemite National Park. Today, nearly 120 years later, the Sierra Nevada range -- like every other ecosystem in America -- is suffering from the impacts of climate destabilization. It's just one reason why these standards are so important.

I want to thank EPA and NHTSA for the opportunity to testify today. I appreciate the incredible amount of work you and your staffs have put in along with California's Air Resources Board to make these historic standards possible.

I'm here today because our dangerous addiction to oil is threatening our quality of life by draining our wallets at the gas pump, polluting our air, and devastating our climate. Every day, we send nearly $1 billion overseas for foreign oil -- wasting money that should be fueling American innovation and investment in growing industries like clean energy. Our oil addiction fuels the climate disruption that is increasing the number and intensity of severe droughts and devastating storms. It also puts our troops at risk around the world, and our families' health and security at risk here at home.

That's why these new fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards for new cars and light trucks are such a big deal. President Obama's proposal to double the efficiency of America's cars and light trucks is the biggest single step we've ever taken to move America beyond oil. In 2025, American families will get to buy cars and light trucks that average 54.5 miles-per-gallon, and emit no more than 163 grams per mile of carbon pollution.

That's a big win for all Americans. To put this in perspective, the average family buying a new car in 2025 will save more than $3,500 at the pump -- even after paying for fuel-saving technology. In 2030, Americans will use 1.5 million fewer barrels of oil every day, the same amount we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010, and cut carbon pollution by an amount equivalent to shutting down 72 coal-fired power plants for a year.

The shift we have seen over the past few years in our auto industry is worthy of recognition. The United Auto Workers -- the backbone of the American manufacturing industry -- strongly supports these standards, as do Ford, GM, Chrysler, and the other major automakers. The industry is already enjoying a rebound, with new jobs in Michigan and across the Midwest; by 2030 these standards could create nearly half a million jobs across the country.

Here in California, we've been paving the way for cleaner cars for nearly a decade. I'm proud to live in a state that has led the nation in cutting pollution from cars -- from the pollution that compromises our health and our right to breathe healthy air to the pollution the threatens our climate. California pioneered the first-ever tailpipe standards for greenhouse gases, putting its authority and the Clean Air Act to work. It took years of litigation and 13 other states joining our state's clean cars program before we finally created the momentum at the national level to raise the national standards that had been stuck since the 1970s.

For more than twenty years, the Sierra Club and its members have pushed for stronger fuel-efficiency standards that will help America break its oil addiction. Already more than 20,000 of our members have sent in their comments, and more than a hundred of our members have testified at these hearings. We are committed to help educate members of the public about the benefits of buying the most efficient vehicle that meets their family's needs. The Sierra Club will also continue working to ensure that all Americans have more and better transportation choices -- by making walking and biking safer and increasing our access to transit.

As a father of two young kids, I'm relieved to know that the cars they'll drive in the years to come will use much less oil and emit less pollution. The reality is, these standards are strong, and they need to be stronger. Dirty oil pollutes our air, our water, and our atmosphere. And as we've seen over the past couple of elections, Big Oil cash pollutes our democracy. We look forward to working with President Obama, along with your agencies, to ensure that the Administration finalizes strong standards this July that will deliver the strongest possible benefits to American families and workers through 2025 and beyond. Thank you.

I had my say today, but you can still tell the EPA and NHTSA what you think about stronger fuel economy standards here.

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