CLIMATE:

Obama admin starts round 2 rulemaking for auto fuel-economy, GHGs

Correction appended.

The Obama administration has moved closer to announcing the next round of fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks.

U.S. EPA and the Transportation Department sent a notice last Friday to the White House regulatory review office detailing plans to extend fuel economy and emissions rules for model years 2017 through 2025, according to a website that tracks federal rulemaking.

President Obama in May directed EPA and DOT to issue a notice of intent to issue a proposed rule by Sept. 30 to take off where the last set of rules ends. The administration finalized a joint rulemaking earlier this year that boosted fuel economy and set the first-ever federal greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks beginning with model year 2012 and running through 2016 (Greenwire, May 21).

In a memorandum signed in May, Obama said the next round of standards should achieve "substantial annual progress in reducing transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption" and "strengthen the industry and enhance job creation in the United States." However, the president did not lay out specific mpg targets.

A coalition of 20 environmental and consumer groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, has launched a lobbying campaign urging the administration to raise automobile fuel-efficiency standards to at least 60 mpg by 2025. The standard finalized this year will push the nation's corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

Meeting that standard, the groups say, would result in a fuel reduction of at least 40 billion gallons a year by 2030 (Greenwire, Sept. 9).

Mark Cooper, research director with Consumer Federation of America, said automakers have market incentives to produce gas guzzlers, while consumers are unable to make the calculations to figure out what fuel economy really means for their pocketbook.

"There's an information problem, a market structure problem and an incentive problem. There's a whole array of market imperfections," Cooper said. "The answer, in my opinion, is standards. We believe standards worked in the '70s and '80s, and the evidence supports that. ... A good standard orienting the industry in the right direction corrects the market imperfections."

Automobile manufacturers, which supported the recent fuel economy boost, are pushing back against calls for a 60 mpg standard.

"Just last year, automakers supported reaching 35-plus mpg by 2016, and before we have even achieved those new heights, the calls have begun to almost double mileage," Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokesman Charles Territo said.

"Instead of plucking numbers out of the air, we should base policy on science and expert reviews of all the factors, like affordability of technology, availability of low-carbon fuels and the state of the electric infrastructure."

The administration is also preparing to issue new fuel economy standards and the first-ever greenhouse gas limits for large trucks and buses. EPA and DOT sent draft rules last month to the White House Office of Management and Budget that would limit heavy-duty vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions and boost fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Obama has urged the agencies to issue final standards for trucks and buses by July 30, 2011.

Correction: The projected fuel savings would be at least 40 billion gallons of oil a year by 2030, not 40 billion barrels, as originally stated.

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