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Federal Legislation Would Change Clean Air Act to Bar States from Setting Greenhouse Gas Standards for Vehicles

Legislation under discussion in the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce would, if eventually enacted, amend the language of the Federal Clean Air Act to block states from establishing standards to limit the emission of greenhouse gases from automobiles.

The discussion draft of legislation submitted by Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality Chair Rick Boucher (D-VA) would prohibit the head of the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing the waiver required for a state to impose auto pollution standards if the new requirements are “designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The issuance of a federal waiver is a well-established process with decades of legal precedent in California’s setting of its own, more stringent emissions regulations. The issuance of the waiver is also the next step in California’s quest—now 18-months old—to proceed with implementing its greenhouse gas limits on new light-duty vehicles beginning in 2009. Eleven other states have adopted the California regulations. (Earlier post.)

Specifically, the new legislation under discussion would amend Section 209(b)(1) of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7543) to read (new language is in boldface):

...No such waiver shall be granted if the Administrator finds that-

  1. the determination of the State is arbitrary and capricious,

  2. such State does not need such State standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions,

  3. such State standards and accompanying enforcement  procedures are not consistent with section 202(a) of this part, or

  4. such State standards are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A hearing by the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality on the discussion draft is scheduled for Thursday, and will be webcast. The legislation will also be considered for inclusion in energy legislation scheduled for markup during June by both the Subcommittee and the full Committee, according to Boucher.

The draft is meant to stimulate discussion on several critical issues affecting US energy security: the production of alternative fuels and the infrastructure required to deliver them; the impact of motor vehicle use on energy consumption and supply; and the need to recognize the interdependent relationship between fuels and vehicles by treating them as a system.

—Representative Boucher

Among the other proposals included in the Discussion Draft are:

  • Implementing an Alternative Fuels Standard (AFS) that would begin in 2013 and mandate the use of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuel by 2025. In addition to corn-based and cellulosic ethanol, the bill would encourage and support the development of coal-to-liquids synthetic fuels as well as natural gas and electricity.

    The bill establishes compliance value multipliers for each alternative fuel to determine the extent to which each fuel satisfies the volume obligation. Corn ethanol, for example, has a compliance value of 1.0, while gas-to-liquids and coal-to-liquids fuels have values of 1.5. In the early years (2013-2015), cellulosic ethanol has a compliance value of 2.5. This drops to 1.0 in the longer term. Electricity and gaseous hydrogen have values of 2.5 from 2013 though 2020, then dropping to 1.0. Butanol makes it on the list as well, with a value of 1.3 for the entire period.

  • Establishing a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The LCFS is based on the volumes of the AFS. Twelve billions gallons of the alternative fuel required by that standard are to have a carbon intensity equal to 80% of the carbon intensity of gasoline. Of the remainder of the alternative fuel required by that standard for a given year, 50% will have a carbon intensity equal to 50% of the carbon intensity of gasoline; and 50% will have a carbon intensity equal to 25% of the carbon intensity of gasoline.

  • Developing programs to assist retailers in the installation or conversion of fuels infrastructure to alternative fuels use.

  • Mandating an increase in fuel economy to 36 mpg US by model year 2021 for passenger cars and 30 mpg US after model year 2024 for light-duty trucks. In addition to expressing standards in terms of miles per gallon, the bill would also require the expressions of standards in average grams per mile of carbon dioxide emissions. Automakers would have to increase the production of dual-fueled vehicles (e.g., flex-fuel vehicles) from 45% of new vehicles in 2012 to 85% in 2020.


  • Discussion Drafts Released June 1, 2007: Title I -- Fuels

  • Clean Air Act

  • June 1, 2007 memorandum to Members from Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality Chairman Rick Boucher



Yipee. Gotta love our One Party system.


Accd to Opensecrets, Rep. Boucher's number one contributor over the years has been... Electric Utilities. What a surprise.


Ok now my brain circuits are shorting! This is criminal. Who ever sponsors this bill is Public Enemy No.1


They need to let the states do what they want on this one. It is a way of limiting huge, heavy, polluting and gas guzzling SUVs on their roads and they have every right to do this. It is their state and those are their roads.

Jack Hughes

Hey, no problem feds. We'll see you in court.

Rafael Seidl

This appears to be an instance of the usual turf war between federal and state legislators. It is true that greenhouse gases are a global rather than a local/regional environmental problem, so the responsibility for addressing it should lie at the federal level. Only the state department can negotiate directly with foreign governments.

The problem is that the entire federal body politic has been abdicating this responsibility for many years now. Congressional representatives are simply too beholden to campaign contributions from industry, e.g. the energy and auto sectors.

Besides, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the Clean Air Act basically entitles individual states to restrict the emissions of harmful compounds not covered by EPA regulations. That is why there is now a waiver process. Rep. Boucher's amendment is attempt to close the barn door after the horse has bolted and, may be ruled unconstitutional even if it passes. Of course, there would be a lengthy delay...

C Harget

Lemmee see if I've got this right...if any state wants to raise standards above the minimum to show that even more can be done...that's um, wait, I know this one, um, "bad" for the country because, um, ah...oh dang, I thought I knew this one.

Gerald Shields

And take away the States' right to straighten out the feds B.S.?! Hell no! Write your politician to stop this!

C Harget

Rick Boucher (VA), Chairman

G. K. Butterfield, NC, Vice Chair
Charlie Melancon, LA
John Barrow, GA
Henry A. Waxman, CA
Edward J. Markey, MA
Albert R. Wynn, MD
Mike Doyle, PA
Jane Harman, CA
Tom Allen, ME
Charles A. Gonzalez, TX
Jay Inslee, WA
Tammy Baldwin, WI
Mike Ross, AR
Darlene Hooley, OR
Anthony D. Weiner, NY
Jim Matheson, UT
John D. Dingell (Ex Officio)

J. Dennis Hastert, IL, Ranking Member
Ralph M. Hall, TX
Fred Upton, MI
Ed Whitfield, KY
John Shimkus, IL
John B. Shadegg, AZ
Charles W. "Chip" Pickering, MS
Steve Buyer, IN
Mary Bono, CA
Greg Walden, OR
Mike Rogers, MI
Sue Myrick, NC
John Sullivan, OK
Michael C. Burgess, TX
Joe Barton, TX (Ex Officio)


Let me see if I have this right, the states are willing to do something about a problem that the federal government has sat on it's thumbs about, and now these "representatives" are going to try and get in the way of the people that are doing something? With authority comes responsibility. If you can't live up to your responsibilities (i.e. earn your pay) then you've abdicated your authority.


I don't get this. How could CA, MA, NY etc senators agree to this?


Oh my Gosh!.. You mean to tell me all those whacko conspiracy theroists are actually right???


Thing is, according to the Clean Air Act, there can only be two sets of standards:

California (if the EPA grants a waiver).

States can either use the Fed OR the California standards. This is supposed to avoid 50 state setting 50 different standards and fracturing the market into 50 different pieces. That much makes sense.

Rafael is probably correct about the turf battle aspect. This Congress is still working on Federal-level GHG legislation and they likely don't want to be upstaged by California.


I don't think its a matter of being upstaged. I think its a matter of trying to water down something that could have worked. As Rafael also points out "Congressional representatives are simply too beholden to campaign contributions from industry, e.g. the energy and auto sectors." and I agree completely.

greg woulf

I don't even understand why section 209 belongs in this document. It seems to restrict the states right to pass their own laws even if those laws never contradict federal regulations.

This is one document badly in need of a re-write.

I'm not sure if this is political grandstanding or what. After the popularity of California standards around the world I can't see a law passing that would stop them being very popular.

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