White House announces national vehicle emissions policy

President Barack Obama May 19 announced plans for national fuel efficiency requirements. The policy is aimed at increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is projected to conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil and reduce emissions by an approximate 900 million metric tons under the life of the program.

The estimated effect of the emissions reduction is equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road or shutting down 194 coal plants, the White House said in a press release. The standards cover model years from 2012 to 2016 and, by 2016, will require an average 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg), surpassing Congress’ previous goal of reaching 35 mpg by 2020.

In a Rose Garden statement, Obama addressed consumer fears of higher automobile costs by stating that, over the life of a vehicle, an average driver would save about $2,800 in fuel costs. Automakers have backed Obama’s plan since they would not have to face multiple emission requirements in the future and would have more certainty in developing new vehicles. CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Dave McCurdy applauded the president for bringing automotive manufacturers and environmental groups together and stressed the importance of a national policy in avoiding conflicting standards from different regulatory agencies. Obama addressed the importance of the policy, stating that it:

represents not only a change in policy in Washington, but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington. As a result of this agreement, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. And at a time of historic crisis in our auto industry, this rule provides the clear certainty that will allow these companies to plan for a future in which they are building the cars of the 21st century.

Obama said that by using less oil, producing less pollution and creating new jobs, his policy will help the economy run more efficiently.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed finding that atmospheric greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, setting the stage for federal government regulation for the first time. The new policy addresses the growing concern of inconsistent emission standards developing across the states. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have sought to adopt their own emission standards. The Clean Air Act provisions on state standards prohibit states from “adopt[ing] or attempt[ing] to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines” without obtaining a waiver. In March, the EPA reconsidered California’s request to regulate vehicle emissions after denying their request in 2008. (Jurist, May 19)

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  1. EPA lets California set emission policy
    From the San Francisco Chronicle, July 1:

    Federal officials on Tuesday cleared California to impose tough greenhouse gas limits on new motor vehicles that more than a dozen other states can follow immediately and that will form the basis of new nationwide rules in 2012.

    In a major reversal of Bush administration policy, the Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling was hailed by California politicians and national environmental groups as a breakthrough in curbing carbon dioxide – a leading contributor to global warming.

    Tuesday’s waiver highlights the state’s decades-long tradition of environmental leadership, said Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    “When you look at California’s leadership across the board on energy and global warming, it provides almost a perfect template for the activity going on in D.C.,” he said. “What’s happening out here with Tesla (Motors’ electric car production) is what should be happening in Detroit.”

    California has a history of setting environmental standards more rigorous than the federal government’s since before 1970, and the Clean Air Act passed that year permits the state to continue to do so, providing it receives a waiver from the EPA.

    The state law setting the new carbon dioxide standards, written by then-Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, passed in 2002, and the state sought an EPA waiver in 2005. But the EPA denied the waiver in 2007, saying it was important to have a national emissions standard and that a recently passed energy bill raising fuel economy standards was a better universal rule.

    In January, President Obama’s pick for EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, promised to review the waiver decision. In May, Obama announced national emissions and fuel economy standards patterned after California’s pending rule. On Tuesday, Jackson granted the California waiver.

    “This decision puts the law and science first,” Jackson said in a statement. “After review of the scientific findings, and another comprehensive round of public engagement, I have decided this is the appropriate course under the law.”