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March 31, 2010

Clean Cars Rules Are A-Comin'

This is a guest post from Ann Mesnikoff, director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign. (Are you a member of the Climate Crossroads Green Transportation Group?)

We are one day away from a new world for vehicle standards - April 1st may be April Fools Day, but when it comes to saving oil, curbing global warming and keeping billions of dollars in our pockets and our economy - the Obama Administration's action tomorrow is no prank. This is the biggest step the government has ever taken to save oil and curb global warming pollution.

On April 1, 2010 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation will make final rules for both fuel economy and greenhouse gases for new vehicles. Consistent with what President Obama announced a little less than one year ago in the Rose Garden, by 2016 new vehicles will average 35.5 miles per gallon and emit 250 grams per mile of CO2. This final rule shifts vehicle standards out of the 1970s and into the 21st century.

President Obama even mentioned the rule in a speech today:
Just a few months after taking office, I also gathered the leaders of the world's largest automakers, the heads of labor unions, environmental advocates, and public officials from California and across the country to reach an historic agreement to raise fuel economy standards in cars and trucks. Tomorrow, after decades in which we have done little to increase auto efficiency, those new standards will be finalized, which will reduce our dependence on oil while helping folks spend a little less at the pump.

So my administration is upholding its end of the deal, and we expect all parties to do the same. I'd also point out: this rule will not only save drivers money; it will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. That’s like taking 58 million cars off the road for an entire year.
Tomorrow's final rule marks EPA's first greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks under the Clean Air Act - an authority now under attack in Congress. Starting in 2012 consumers will have a new metric for judging new vehicles - grams per mile of CO2 spewing from the tailpipe. Cars and light trucks emit 20% of U.S. CO2 pollution and EPA's 250 g/mile standard in 2016, will keep an anticipated 950 million metric tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. These standards will make the connection between global warming and tailpipes clear. In addition, EPA is setting standards for additional potent greenhouse gas gases associated with vehicles including air conditioning refrigerants.

EPA's standards complement the familiar miles per gallon standard from NHTSA - but we now hit the 35 mile per gallon standard called for in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act four years early with EPA's CO2 standard - intended to match the stringency of California's landmark standards. Fuel economy goes up and emissions from new vehicles will go down by 30%.

For some context, according to EPA, the 2009 fleet of vehicles averaged 26.4 mpg and emitted 337 grams per mile of CO2 - the industry now has a clear path for progress.

Both EPA and NHTSA developed separate standards for cars and trucks based on footprint - ramping up between 2012 and 2016. Consistent with the Supreme Court's Massachusetts v EPA decision - the two agencies worked together using their different yet complementary authority to achieve two critical national goals - energy security and reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

As identified in the proposed rule, under the Clean Air Act EPA brings a different approach to setting standards for vehicles and measuring compliance:
  • Automakers cannot buy their way out of compliance as they can under CAFE;
  • EPA can set technology forcing standards;
  • EPA addresses the 4 greenhouse gases vehicles emit (nitrous oxide, methane, hydroflourocarbons and CO2);
  • EPA indicated its intent to make compliance transparent – and we look forward to how EPA addresses this issue tomorrow – we all deserve a clear way to judge how automakers are complying with the law each year, something that has been lacking under the CAFE program.
The Administration has done its job setting a clear path forward for the auto industry and it is up to the industry to apply technology to deliver a full range of vehicles that emit less pollution, reduce our dependence on oil and save consumers billions at the pump - but we must also be clear that tomorrow's final rule is a first BIG step forward and that the next step must come quickly - we cannot afford decades of stagnation.

California is already working toward setting standards for vehicles made in 2017 and beyond. With new light weight materials, hybrid technology, better engines and transmissions - new standards must challenge the industry to deliver!
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