A Glimmer of Good News for the Climate: EPA Affirms Fuel Efficiency Standards

December 2, 2016 | 10:23 am
Photo: Wikipedia
Dave Cooke
Senior Vehicles Analyst

On Wednesday, the EPA proposed maintaining its global warming emissions standards for passenger vehicles out to 2025. These standards were finalized in 2012 to protect public health, reduce global warming emissions and fossil fuel use, and save consumers money at the pump. The decision is part of a robust mid-term review of the standards and affirms both that these standards are working as intended and that they can be met out to 2025.

Just for the vehicles affected by this determination (model years 2022-2025), the standards will result in reductions in oil use of 1.2 billion barrels, avoiding more than half a billion tonnes of global warming emissions. That means nearly $60 billion dollars in savings back to consumers and the avoidance of more than 300,000 tonnes of harmful smog-forming emissions over the lifetime of these vehicles.

Manufacturers could meet even stronger standards…

This proposed decision is based on years of analytic work. Since the rules were finalized in 2012, the federal agencies have continued to assess the progress of the industry through extensive stakeholder engagement, computer modeling, and vehicle testing. The fruits of this labor were compiled back in August in the Draft Technical Assessment Report, to which they received additional comments on the technical, environmental, and socioeconomic merits of their analysis from industry, NGOs, and the general public. Wednesday’s proposed determination includes responses to those comments and integrates this additional data into its technical findings in a 700-page technical support document.

Taken together, this data confirms what we’ve been saying all along: the standards are working to provide consumers more efficient vehicle choices; automakers are exceeding the standards today; and through continued innovation, automakers could actually meet even stronger standards in 2025 than are on the books today.

…But the decision provides certainty for industry investment

While EPA agreed that automakers could meet even more stringent standards, opening up a rulemaking process to do so would create uncertainty for manufacturers for years to come, uncertainty which could delay investment in the very technologies needed to meet more stringent standards. Given the large body of evidence gathered over the past four years to support continued reductions in fuel use and emissions, the agency is acting now to protect the environment and ensure future consumers the most efficient vehicle choices in 2025.

Typically, product planning in the vehicle sector starts around 5 years in advance of the introduction of a vehicle. This means that many vehicles which fall under the regulations considered under the mid-term review are already entering their planning cycles. With this decision, the EPA is looking to assure automakers and provide the certainty needed to continue to make the investments in technology that can provide consumers with more efficient vehicles in the future.

We’ve already seen a tremendous amount of investment and innovation since the rules were first finalized: moving forward with the rules as they stand helps ensure that investment continues.

So what’s next?

Over the next 30 days, we will be working to provide additional data to the EPA in support of strong standards. We will also push for the administration to finalize this decision to provide the certainty needed to protect investments in efficient technologies for consumers.

While finalizing this decision would be the last required step for the EPA, the mid-term review of the standards will continue under the next administration because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is required to undergo a de novo rulemaking process under its statutory authority. Concurrently, California is reviewing its own vehicle standards, which currently mirror the federal standards. These standards have been adopted by 13 other states in the West and Northeast and will help these regions meet their own emissions goals.

The technical support for EPA’s decision will provide a strong technical basis for NHTSA to finalize equally stringent regulations and for California to reaffirm their standards, moving the industry forward. With oil prices continuing to be a volatile issue, the certainty of these regulations will assure consumers have efficient vehicle choices in 2025 that will save them money while protecting everyone from the impacts of fossil fuel use.