The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that total liquid fuel consumption in the United States fell again in 2012, marking the sixth out of the past seven years in which consumption has declined. While many factors have contributed to this trend, improvements in vehicle fuel economy have been significant during this period, according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just released a report describing how the nation can cut its petroleum consumption in transportation by another 80 percent by 2050 through a combination of strategies, including biofuels.

On March 6, the EIA reported that in 2012, U.S. consumption of liquid fuels declined by about 394,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) (2.1 percent) compared to 2011. "At 18.6 million bbl/d, U.S. liquid fuels consumption in 2012 was at its lowest level since 1996, 2.2 million bbl/d below the peak level of 20.8 million bbl/d reached in 2005. Factors contributing to the recent trend of declining use include higher petroleum prices, economic challenges, changing consumer preferences, and increases in fuel efficiency standards for vehicles." The use of residual oil fuel and distillate fuels (e.g., diesel) led with the sharpest declines. The use of gasoline, jet fuel, and other products also declined.

On March 15, the EPA reported that "between 2007 and 2012 fuel economy values increased by 16 percent while carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have decreased by 13 percent, and in 2012 alone the report indicates a significant one year increase of 1.4 miles per gallon (mpg) for cars and trucks." Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, observed: "Today’s report shows that we are making strides toward saving families money at the pump, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cleaning up the air we breathe. The historic steps taken by the Obama administration to improve fuel economy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil are accelerating this progress, will spur economic growth and will create high-quality domestic jobs in cutting edge industries across America."

These are good trends that need to continue and accelerate. The DOE/NREL report, Transportation Energy Futures , released March 14, shows how the United States could sharply reduce its petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector by 2050. The coordinated set of strategies would include continued improvement in vehicle fuel economy, powering more vehicles with electricity and hydrogen, using vehicles less (through development and deployment of alternative transportation modes), and increasing the use of biofuels. EESI organized a briefing today on the report's release, with speakers from DOE, NREL and the Department of Transportation. Materials will be available on our website , including a video of the briefing early next week.