The American Automobile Association estimates more than 32 million people will travel at least 50 miles this Memorial Day weekend, and 80 percent of them will drive.
Motorists will be greeted by higher prices at the pump. According to AAA, unleaded gasoline is selling for 2.39 per gallon nationally. That's up 40 cents in the past month alone, but well below last Memorial Day weekend when the average price stood at a lofty $3.83 per gallon.
Still, with about 5 percent of the world's population accounting for roughly a quarter of global demand for oil, critics claim America's unquenchable thirst for crude threatens long-term economic prosperity, and national security.
This week though, President Obama unveiled rigorous new fuel economy and emissions standards designed to lessen the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
For years, even decades, the big three automakers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation have been at odds over what should be done about air pollution produced by passenger vehicles in the United States. This week, representatives of these disparate groups joined with President Obama in the Rose Garden to hail the creation of a landmark agreement.
President Barrack Obama: "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.)"
The drive to this historic decision began in 2005 when California environmental officials enacted laws forcing car companies to comply with greenhouse gas reductions beginning in 2012. The major automakers sued the state of California. At the same time, thirteen other states and the District of Columbia were preparing to adopt California-style rules. On Tuesday, the Obama administration intervened.
President Barrack Obama: "Ending our dependence on oil, indeed, ending our dependence on fossil fuels, represents perhaps the most difficult challenge we have ever faced -- not as a party, not as a set of separate interests, but as a people."
In an unprecedented move, the unlikely partners worked together to create a proposal that imposes the toughest fuel efficiency standards in history. The mandate also requires a reduction in automobile greenhouse gas emissions.
Currently, every vehicle sold in the United States must have an average fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon. Beginning in 2016, the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standard -- or CAFE Standard -- will be 35.5 miles per gallon -- four years earlier than the one contained in the Energy Bill signed by President Bush in 2007. The new standards require passenger cars to achieve an average fuel consumption of 39 miles per gallon and light trucks an average of 30 miles per gallon. In exchange for the rigorous federal rules, the car companies agreed to drop their lawsuits and the individual states agreed to delay moving forward with new rules of their own.
Major car company CEO's praised the agreement saying it created certainty on federal guidelines in the near future.
Alan Mulally, CEO, Ford: "We're going to be best-in-class in fuel efficiency, in addition to quality and safety and that every year, year after year, we're going to improve the fuel mileage going forward and reduce the CO2."
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was pleased with the compromise.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenenegger, R-California: "The car manufacturers, you know, needed money. They need the taxpayers' money. They need the federal government to help them. So in order to get that help, I'm sure that President Obama said, "OK, we're going to give you the help, but here's what you need to do."
And renewable fuels proponents applauded the move because they believe it will help achieve a cleaner environment while reducing dependence on foreign oil.
Bob Dinneen, Renewable Fuels Association: "We think it's a very good step. We applaude the administration for taking it. The fact of the matter is we need to be moving toward greater fuel economy in this country. I think that some of the factors in there, taking a step toward a carbon standard is part of that, makes a great deal of sense and we see opportunity for ethanol as this moves forward."
Unlike previous incarnations of the CAFE standard, automobile manufacturers will not be allowed to use fuel efficient hybrids or electric cars to skew the final figures to achieve compliance. All sizes of passenger and light trucks must comply with the new rules.
Senior administration officials are predicting the measure will reduce oil consumption by 1.8 billion barrels and reduce greenhouse gasses by 900 million metric tons over the five-year life of the rule. An amount they claim is the equivalent of taking 177 million cars off the road or shutting down 194 coal-fired power plants. The Obama Administration acknowledges the measure will increase the cost of new vehicles by $1300, but those expenses are expected to be offset by savings at the pump.