EPA Okays Stronger Auto Emissions Standards Now in CA, 13 Other States

The
Environmental Protection Agency today granted California’s request for
a waiver allowing greater limits on auto tailpipe emissions, a move
that effectively speeds up the phasing-in of the Obama administration’s
fuel-efficiency standards in as many as 13 other states.

The
EPA billed its decision, which was widely expected and fulfills a
campaign promise made by the president, as a return to long-standing
precedent of regulating under the Clean Air Act.

But
the waiver is likely to bring short-term benefits for California as
well as the 13 states that joined its waiver request, permitting that
group to impose stricter auto emissions standards between now and 2012.

In 2012, California has agreed to equalize its program with
the federal government’s, EPA officials explained to reporters today.
That paves the way for the Obama administration’s 35.5 mpg
fuel-efficiency standard to begin taking effect in the 2016 model year.

California
lawmakers reacted excitedly to the announcement. Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), referencing the
Bush administration’s controversial denial
of the emissions waiver, remarked: "It should be comforting to know
that the [EPA] is now putting science and the law back into the
driver’s seat rather than politics and special interests."

Meanwhile,
the auto industry was as glum as could be expected, given that it has
already agreed to the Obama administration’s fuel-efficiency rules and
agreed to drop all lawsuits contesting the waiver request. "We are
hopeful the granting of this waiver will not undermine the enormous
efforts put forth to create the national program," Alliance of
Automobile Manufacturers President Dave McCurdy said in a statement.

  • DJB

    As important as this is to foster the development of more efficient cars, like plug-in hybrids, and electric cars, I’m part of the school of thought that says that it would be easier to green the fleet through taxes on the dirty fuel(s) instead of regulations on the average fuel economy of a manufacturer.

    If you’re bored some time, compare the websites of any car company in the U.S. where gasoline taxes are low, to the same websites in a country like the UK, where gasoline taxes are high. It’s like night and day. The cars sold in the UK, even by firms like Ford and GM are much more efficient than the cars sold here.

    Raise taxes on gasoline and consumers will make better choices about what cars to buy, or not buy. Just don’t ask me how to build the political will :)

  • DJB

    It takes time for new regulations to have an effect, time we don’t really have if we want to head off the worst effects of climate change. The CA regulations say 35.5 MPG on average by 2016 (I believe this is for cars by the way, not trucks and SUVs). Even by 2016 it’s not like all cars on the road are going to magically get 35.5 MPG overnight. It takes time for the existing fleet be replaced by new vehicles.

    Furthermore, CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) is an average. There is no guarantee that consumers will decide to buy the cars that get at or above average fuel economy. They might prefer the cars that are below average. Given that this is America, where horsepower still tends to be more important to people than the environment, I’d say that’s pretty likely.

    By contrast, raising gasoline taxes has immediate and long term benefits. Everybody has an immediate incentive to drive less (which reduces pollution and strengthens other modes of transportation) when gasoline is more expensive, no matter what they drive. When they buy a new car, truck, or SUV they will be more likely to think about the cost of gas.

    If we really expect to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 to stop climate change, we’re going to have to get serious and figure out how to build the will to make gasoline more expensive. Raising CAFE is a start, but I fear it won’t be enough.

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