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Fuel efficiency: Will new rules cure US addiction to foreign oil?

President Obama on Friday unveiled fuel-efficiency standards of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 – a significant step in dealing with emissions and oil consumption.

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President Barack Obama walks past a Nissan Leaf electric car and Toyota Prius Hybrid as he arrives to deliver remarks on a program to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles to be built between 2017-2025, in Washington on July 29.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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President Obama on Friday unveiled a new set of vehicle fuel-efficiency standards that put the US auto industry on track to achieve a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 – a big step toward cutting oil imports and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, energy experts and environmentalists say.

The newly proposed standards, which more than double fuel efficiency compared with today's levels, follow close on the heels of earlier increases in fuel-economy standards, finalized in April. Under that previous rule, mileage will be raised to 35.5 m.p.g. by 2016, from about 24 m.p.g. today.

The new agreement would by 2025 cut US oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day – as much as half of the oil imported from OPEC each day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. By 2030, it would also lower annual costs at the gas pump by more than $80 billion and cut annual carbon emissions from vehicle tailpipes by the equivalent output of 72 coal-fired power plants, according to a tally by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But to get there, automakers must boost mileage 5 percent each year between 2017 to 2025. Light trucks would progress more slowly at 3.5 percent annually from 2017 to 2021, accelerating to 5 percent annually from 2022 to 2025.

“This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Mr. Obama said in unveiling the standards at the Washington Convention Center, surrounded by an exhibit of new cars and flanked by auto executives. "We’ve set an aggressive target, and the companies here are stepping up to the plate.”

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