The Obama administration today released details of its national suite of auto standards that would mandate increased fuel economy and impose the first-ever greenhouse gas standard on the nation's cars and trucks.
The proposals are a joint effort by U.S. EPA and the Transportation Department and would go into effect with model year 2012. The standards would push corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards to a fleetwide average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, four years ahead of the schedule Congress laid out in a 2007 energy law. The carbon dioxide limit under the plan -- which will apply to passenger cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles -- would reach an average of 250 grams per mile per vehicle in 2016.
"This marks a significant advance in our effort to protect health and the environment," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who was joined by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at the White House to release the details. The White House said the proposal will prevent 950 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions during the four-year rule.
The rules provide automakers with flexibility to meet the new standards during the initial model years of the rule, Jackson said.
Today's announcement fills in the details of Obama's May decision to blend the legal authority the Supreme Court granted EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in its 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision with DOT's right to regulate fuel economy under the CAFE program, while still preserving California's right to regulate air pollution under the Clean Air Act.
"This is truly a green-letter day for President Obama's administration," LaHood said. "The increases in fuel economy and the reductions in greenhouse gases we are proposing today would bring about a new era in automotive history. These proposed standards would help consumers save money at the gas pump, help the environment and decrease our dependence on oil -- all while ensuring that consumers still have a full range of vehicle choices."
DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency tasked with writing CAFE rules, and EPA will need to finalize the efficiency rules by March 31, 2010, to meet the statutory requirement that CAFE standards be completed 18 months before the next model year begins. Model years begin Oct. 1.
The text of the proposals is expected to be available on the Web sites of EPA and DOT later this afternoon.
President Obama, speaking today at a General Motors Co. assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, said the national standards would help automakers rebound by removing the uncertainty that had surrounded state attempts to impose their own set of auto emissions standards.
"This action will give auto companies some long-overdue clarity, stability and predictability," Obama said, according to prepared remarks provided by the White House. "In the past, an agreement like this would have been impossible -- but this time was different. Unlikely allies came together -- automakers, the UAW, environmental advocates, Democrats and Republicans, California and more than a dozen other states -- all of them pledging to set aside the quarrels of the past for the sake of the future."
Obama initially announced his decision to merge new CAFE rulemaking with California's efforts to impose its own emissions standards in May. At the time, he was joined at the White House by top executives from 10 major automakers, including the heads of GM and Chrysler LLC. The government now controls ownership stakes in both companies.
The following month, EPA granted California the waiver it needed under the Clean Air Act to enforce its own standards, in a move that was considered mostly moot given the national standards. Now that California has been granted the waiver, other states will be allowed to enforce the same tailpipe standard. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have already moved to adopt the California's standards, and a handful of others have indicated they may follow.
The auto industry had long challenged California's attempt to regulate tailpipe emissions, arguing that it would create a "regulatory patchwork" that would depress overall sales and put some dealers at a competitive disadvantage. Carmakers and dealers argued that because consumers buy vehicles in different quantities in different states, automakers' fleetwide greenhouse gas averages would vary by state, forcing manufacturers to manipulate the amount of each model they make available in each state.
The litigation was unsuccessful in federal courts, and the industry agreed to drop its legal challenges as part of the compromise that led to the new federal auto standards. But last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Automobile Dealers Association filed suit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the decision (E&ENews PM, Sept. 10).
The vehicle emissions rules can go into effect only after EPA has finalized its proposed "endangerment finding," released in April, that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health and welfare. Today's announcement does not finalize that finding, according to a senior EPA official. That decision is expected by next spring but could come much sooner as the Senate dives deeper into legislation that caps emissions.
Road to Copenhagen
The transportation announcement adds another pillar to an Obama administration climate portfolio already under the international microscope. Obama officials are trying to compile a domestic record of accomplishments as they head into U.N. climate negotiations with more than 180 other countries where U.S. leadership is seen as critical to writing a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
State Department climate envoy Todd Stern told reporters last week that he hoped to have a final cap-and-trade law in place by the December talks in Copenhagen. But short of that, Stern said the United States would still be in a good negotiation position based on the existing legislative and regulatory landscape. "If legislation is moving on a good track that isn't passed yet, there will undoubtedly be ways to try and accommodate that," he said.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said today's announcement would also help send a message to the international community, while still assuring Americans that Obama is viewing environmental decisions through an economic lens.
"The administration, moving forward today through its executive administrative capacity, is a very important component of sending a message to people that we're going to do this across the economy in ways that make sense," Kerry said. "I welcome it. It's long overdue."
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Senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn contributed.