And this gathering is all the more extraordinary for what these diverse groups — despite disparate interests and previous disagreements — have worked together to achieve. For the first time in history, we have set in motion a national policy aimed at both increasing gas mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution for all new trucks and cars sold in the United States of America. (Applause.) And I want to applaud the leadership of the folks at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, and the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change who’ve worked around the clock on this proposal which has now been embraced by so many.
Now, in the past, an agreement such as this would have been considered impossible. It’s no secret that these are folks who’ve occasionally been at odds for years, even decades. In fact, some of the groups here have been embroiled in lawsuits against one another. So that gives you a sense of how impressive and significant it is that these leaders from across the country are willing to set aside the past for the sake of the future.
For what everyone here believes, even as views differ on many important issues, is that the status quo is no longer acceptable. While the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, we create roughly a quarter of the world’s demand for oil. And this appetite comes at a tremendous price — a price measured by our vulnerability to volatile oil markets, which send gas prices soaring and families scrambling. It’s measured by a trade deficit where as much as 20 percent of what we spend on imports is spent on oil. It’s measured in billions of dollars sent to oil-exporting nations, many that we do not choose to support, if we had a choice. It’s measured in a changing climate, as sea levels rise, and droughts spread, forest burns, and storms rage.
And what is all the more tragic is that we’ve known about these costs in one way or another since the gas shortages of the 1970s. And yet all too little has been done. Calls for action rise and fall with the price of a barrel of oil. Worn arguments are traded across entrenched divides. Urgency fades, complacency grows, and time passes.
As a result, we have done little to increase the fuel efficiency of America’s cars and trucks for decades. Think about this. Consider how much has changed all around us. Think of how much faster our computers have become. Think about how much more productive our workers are. Think about how everything has been transformed by our capacity to see the world as it is, but also to imagine a world as it could be.