High Gas Prices Could Drive Down Emissions, Boost Support for Fuel Efficiency and Electric Vehicles


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Dave Dempsey, FLOW Senior Advisor

By Dave Dempsey

Skyrocketing gasoline prices are shocking drivers–but they also provide an opportunity for environmental benefits and demonstrate the value of vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

The transportation sector accounts for 28 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Within this sector, about 59 percent of those emissions, which are driving climate change, comes from light-duty passenger vehicles, and 23 percent comes from medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

Studies suggest that gasoline price boosts of 20 to 40 cents per gallon have only a modest effect in reducing driving and emissions. But bigger increases, such as those American drivers have experienced lately, may bring bigger reductions in miles driven and greenhouse gasses emitted.

Pending policy changes also would save consumers money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, the Biden Administration proposed enhanced vehicle fuel efficiency standards that would significantly reduce gasoline consumption and carbon emissions. The new standards would increase fuel efficiency 8 percent annually for model years 2024-2026 and increase the estimated fleetwide average by 12 miles per gallon for model year 2026, relative to model year 2021. The new standards would save $140 billion in fuel for new vehicles sold by 2030 and $470 billion by 2050.

While simple measures undertaken by individuals can reduce short-term pain to both the pocketbook and environment, it will take large-scale changes in public policy to free Americans from gasoline sticker shock.

Meanwhile, there are simple ways to reduce gasoline use and reduce emissions. Changes in driving habits can save significant amounts of gas and money. The U.S. Department of Energy identified several such habits, including:

  • Maintaining reasonable speeds. Gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph. Each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.29 per gallon for gas. Speeds closer to 50 mph can save $0.29–$0.57/gallon.
  • Avoiding aggressive driving. Speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking waste gas. They can lower your gas mileage by roughly 15% to 30% at highway speeds and 10% to 40% in stop-and-go traffic. Moderate driving habits can save drivers $0.41–$1.64/gallon.
  • Other measures also can reduce fuel use. Proper tire maintenance and use of the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil can save two cents and six cents per gallon, respectively. Even reducing unnecessary weight can reduce gasoline use. An extra 100 pounds can reduce fuel economy up to 1 percent.

Unfortunately, oil companies raking in record profits are not using the windfall to boost investment in clean, renewable energy. In fact, ExxonMobil expects to spend no more than $24 billion on green energy this year, down from $35 billion projected in 2019. Instead, the profits are going to buy back stock shares and increase shareholder dividends. The oil industry’s effort to prioritize profits over people is as outrageous as it is predictable, and includes companies such as Enbridge falsely claiming we can’t live without the decaying and dangerous Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

While simple measures undertaken by individuals can reduce short-term pain to both the pocketbook and environment, it will take large-scale changes in public policy to free Americans from gasoline sticker shock. In the long term, the only way to protect the United States against gas price shocks is to invest more in fuel efficiency and, ultimately, electric vehicles to end our reliance on fossil fuels.


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