The Administration has delivered a historic compromise in the face of what looked to be overwhelming odds against it.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today jointly established new federal rules that set the first-ever national greenhouse gas emissions standards, and will increase the fuel economy of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States.
Starting with 2012 model year vehicles, the rules together require automakers to improve fleet-wide fuel economy and reduce fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions by about 5% every year.
NHTSA has established fuel economy standards that strengthen each year, reaching an estimated 34.1 mpg for the combined industry-wide fleet for model year 2016.
The rules, with a claimed cost of $52 billion and benefits of $240 billion, are compromised or the results of compromises in several areas, depending on your point of view. The vast majority of buyers will not see fuel economy anywhere near 34 mpg.
Because credits for air-conditioning improvements can be used to meet the EPA standards, but not the NHTSA standards, the EPA standards require that by the 2016 model-year, manufacturers must achieve a combined average vehicle emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. The EPA standard would be equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon if all reductions came from fuel economy improvements.
Perhaps more worrisome from policy and health points of view are exemptions for the gas guzzling, CO2 belching vehicles that the rich buy.
DOT and EPA received more than 130,000 public comments on the rules proposed in September 2009, and officials said there was “overwhelming support” for the new national policy. This means that automakers will be able to build a single, light-duty national fleet that satisfies all federal requirements, as well as the standards of California and other states.
The collaboration of federal agencies also allows for clearer rules for all automakers, instead of three standards (DOT, EPA, and a California standard), and was a clear victory for the Obama Administration that negotiated it after decades of gridlock and legal maneuvering.
The joint rules are also a sign of the decreasing political influence of automakers, which had long blocked fuel economy increases, and recognition of a growing green sentiment among voters. (more…)