Sweeping climate and energy legislation that Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled yesterday takes direct aim at greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles across the transportation spectrum, from passenger cars to oceangoing ships.
The bill from Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) would create a suite of federal emissions standards for cars and light trucks, as well as trains, heavy-duty trucks, and ships. It also seeks to curb emissions by pushing the development of plug-in electric vehicles and infrastructure and by setting a "low-carbon fuel standard" for the transportation sector.
Roughly one-third of the nation's total greenhouse gas emissions are from the transportation sector, according to government estimates, and several key lawmakers have said that no climate and energy measure can be complete without addressing transportation.
One of the bill's provisions would require the president to "harmonize" federal auto fuel economy standards with any future emissions levels set by U.S. EPA and the strict emissions standards that California is hoping to enforce later this year, if it receives the waiver it needs to do so.
Earlier this year, the White House signaled that it was considering a similar move that would blend new corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards with the auto emissions standards California is fighting to enforce. Under the federal Clean Air Act, California is the only state that can enforce its own standards -- but only with an EPA waiver. If California receives the waiver, other states would be permitted to enforce the same tailpipe standard. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have already moved to adopt the stricter standards, and a handful of others have indicated they will follow if the waiver is granted.
The move to an overarching federal policy that governs both fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions was applauded by automakers, who have for years been fighting in court to block California from enforcing their standards.
David McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group representing Detroit's Big Three and other carmakers, said that proposal shows both Obama and House Democrats are on the same page when it comes to a national emissions standard. "This is also an opportunity to reset the debate and provide automakers with the certainty and consistency we need as we move toward a low carbon future," he said.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a longtime champion of his home state's auto industry and the former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, echoed the industry's support of a federal emissions policy. "I am pleased that for the first time we have stepped past the stale debate over California standards versus national standards," he said. "This harmonization is critically important for an already struggling auto industry."
The bill would preserve both EPA's and California's rights to enact new, stricter emissions standards that go above and beyond the CAFE rules that the Transportation Department is drafting. The Obama administration finalized an 8 percent increase in fuel economy for model year 2011, and DOT is working on new standards for subsequent years that will push the industry toward, and possibly past, the congressionally mandated 40 percent increase by 2020.
The climate bill would also require EPA to set greenhouse gas emissions standards for new heavy-duty trucks by the end of 2010 and marine vessels and trains by the end of 2012. The agency would have the option of setting emissions standards for aircraft by 2012.
The wide-ranging legislation would also create a "low-carbon fuel standard" for fuels used in on-road and off-highway vehicles and airplanes, and leaves EPA discretion to include ocean vessels.
The bill gives EPA three years to promulgate regulations that would bring down the greenhouse gas emissions, based on per unit of energy, of all transportation fuels below 2005 levels. It would prevent average emissions from exceeding 2005 levels for each year between 2014 and 2022. Emissions would then need to decrease by at least 5 percent below 2005 levels for each year between 2023 and 2029, and by 10 percent for 2030 and later.
The Waxman-Markey bill also pushes for greater use of plug-in electric cars and trucks, which are seen as a promising way to curb emissions and displace oil consumption by using electricity in the transportation sector.
The bill calls for states and utilities to develop plans to support the use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and all-electric plug-ins and for the Energy Department to launch a large-scale electric demonstration program. The state plans would determine how utilities would accommodate large fleets of plug-ins and would consider a host of charging options -- including public charging stations, on-street charging, and battery swapping stations -- and establish any necessary standards for integrating plug-ins into an electrical distribution system, including Smart Grid technology.
The DOE program would "deploy and integrate plug-in electric drive vehicles in multiple regions," the goal of which would be to demonstrate the viability and potential benefits of investments in the technology.
State and local governments, possibly in concert with utilities, automakers and other partners, would be eligible to apply to DOE for financial assistance to carry out programs for integrating plug-ins into their area. In addition, DOE could offer financial assistance to automakers for retooling their facilities to produce plug-in electric vehicles and buying domestically produced batteries.
Jay Friedland, legislative director for Plug In America, said the increased attention to the plug-in infrastructure was the latest sign the electric vehicle industry was ready to take off. "We're very much in support of what Reps. Waxman and Markey have done," Friedland said. "They're dead-on in the kinds of policy that we need."
Last month, Obama announced the release of $2.4 billion in stimulus cash for the development of plug-ins and the advanced batteries they rely on for power. The program is part of the president's plan to put at least 1 million plug-ins on U.S. roads by 2015.
Friedland said plug-in advocates are still riding high from the significant boost they got from the stimulus, which also provided consumer credits toward the purchase of electric vehicles. "And now we're getting the states to jump in and develop the infrastructure," Friedland said. "We definitely are getting to critical mass."