From ABCNews:

President Obama will issue the toughest emission and mileage standards in history for new cars sold in the United States on Tuesday, in a move environmentalists hail as the first step ever by the U.S. government to curb global warming.

President Obama will tomorrow announce a “historic” new policy involving new greenhouse gas emission standards and new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for vehicles sold in the US, sources tell ABC News.

Sources familiar with the changes tell ABC News the new national Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard will require an average of 35 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks by the year 2016 — four years ahead of schedule.”

Mandating new standards for cars and trucks gets at the issue of consumer choice. Consumers have a wide variety of choices when it comes to purchasing a vehicle; clearly, a number of smaller, fuel-efficient cars exist on the market today – including a growing number of hybrid vehicles. Americans use larger vehicles for practical reasons: to take their kids to soccer practice, to tow their boat to the shore, or on small farms to haul equipment or produce. At first glance, more miles-per-gallon may sound like a good thing, but not when it obliges consumers to make sacrifices elsewhere.

And for a struggling auto industry, it will cost more to retool plants and meet new efficiency requirements, which could be an invitation to more taxpayer-funded bailouts:

The companies will have to redesign their vehicles faster than planned to meet the 2016 target, ‘and that makes for a lot of expense because you can’t recoup the cost for whatever you’ve invested,’ said K.G. Duleep, managing director of consulting firm Energy & Environmental Analysis Inc. in Arlington, Virginia.”

Energy efficiency is a good thing, but it rarely works when the government forces standards on businesses. Although touted as a measure to curb global warming, fuel efficiency standards have very little environmental impact. Newer vehicles with better efficiency standards may emit less carbon dioxide per mile, but increased fuel efficiency often leads to more driving and new cars “constitute a miniscule source of overall carbon dioxide emissions.”

CAFE standards raise the price of the vehicle while making cars and trucks lighter, and ultimately, less safe. Heritage senior policy analyst Ben Lieberman writes,

In theory, consumers can save at the pump by being made to switch to more efficient vehicles, and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions and oil imports. But doing so will raise sticker prices, and the costs could more than negate the energy savings.

Beyond costs, in order to meet the tough new CAFE standard, cars and trucks will need to be lighter, which makes them less safe in collisions. A National Academy of Sciences study concluded that vehicle downsizing costs 1,300 to 2,600 lives per year.”

New fuel efficiency standards come with a number of unintended consequences, and they will have very little, if any, effect on its actual intended consequence – to reduce global warming.