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US EPA and NHTSA Jointly Propose New Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Regulations for Vehicles

Greenhouse gas and fuel economy levels under the EPA NHTSA joint proposed rulemaking. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly proposed a rule establishing a national program that would improve vehicle fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases. The proposal builds upon the core principles President Obama announced in May for a harmonized national policy intended to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for all new cars and trucks sold in the US.(Earlier post.)

In this joint rulemaking, EPA and NHTSA are proposing two separate sets of attribute-based standards applying to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles, covering model years 2012 through 2016, each under its respective statutory authorities:

  • EPA is proposing national CO2 emissions standards for light-duty vehicles under section 202 (a) of the Clean Air Act. These standards would require these vehicles to meet an estimated combined average emissions level of 250 grams/mile of CO2 in model year 2016.

  • NHTSA is proposing CAFE standards for passenger cars and light trucks under 49 U.S.C. 32902. These standards would require them to meet an estimated combined average fuel economy level of 34.1 mpg in model year 2016.

  • There is a difference in stringency for the two standards due to differences in the agencies’s respective statutory authorities. EPA expects manufacturers to take advantage of the option to generate CO2-equivalent credits by reducing emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and CO2 through improvements in their air conditioner systems. EPA accounted for these reductions in developing its proposed CO2 standard. However, EPCA does not allow vehicle manufacturers to use air conditioning credits in complying with CAFE standards.

    The 250 g/mile of CO2 equivalent emissions limit by EPA is equivalent to 35.5 mpg if the automotive industry were to meet this CO2 level all through fuel economy improvements. As a consequence of the prohibition against NHTSA’s allowing credits for air conditioning improvements for purposes of passenger car CAFE compliance, however, NHTSA is proposing fuel economy standards that are estimated to require the combined (passenger car and light truck) average fuel economy level of 34.1 mpg by MY 2016.

  • The proposed standards for both agencies begin with the 2012 model year, with standards increasing in stringency through model year 2016. They represent a harmonized approach that will allow industry to build a single national fleet that will satisfy both the GHG requirements under the CAA and CAFE requirements under EPCA/EISA.

NHTSA and EPA worked closely to develop their respective proposals comprising the National Program. The agencies developed a comprehensive joint Technical Support Document (TSD) that provides a technical underpinning for each agency’s modeling and analysis used to support the proposed standards. Also, to the extent allowed by law, the agencies have harmonized many elements of program design, such as the form of the standard (the footprint-based attribute curves), and the definitions used for cars and trucks.

They have developed the same or similar compliance flexibilities, to the extent allowed and appropriate under their respective statutes, such as averaging, banking, and trading of credits, and have harmonized the compliance testing and test protocols used for purposes of the fleet average standards each agency is proposing.

EPA and NHTSA expect that automobile manufacturers will meet these proposed standards by utilizing technologies that will reduce vehicle GHG emissions and improve fuel economy. Although many of these technologies are available today, the emissions reductions and fuel economy improvements proposed would involve more widespread use of these technologies across the light-duty vehicle fleet.

These include improvements to engines, transmissions, and tires, increased use of start-stop technology, improvements in air conditioning systems (to the extent currently allowed by law), increased use of hybrid and other advanced technologies, and the initial commercialization of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Together, EPA and NHTSA estimate that the average cost increase for a model year 2016 vehicle due to the proposed National Program is less than $1,100.

The light-duty vehicles subject to this proposed National Program account for about 40% of all US oil consumption, and about 60% of transportation sector oil use. The combined EPA and NHTSA standards would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the light-duty vehicle fleet by about 21% in 2030 over the level that would occur in the absence of any new greenhouse gas or fuel economy standards. The greenhouse gas emission reductions this program would bring about are equivalent to the emissions of 42 million cars.

NHTSA has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed CAFE standards. The Draft EIS compares the environmental impacts of the agency’s proposal and reasonable alternatives.

NHTSA and EPA are providing a 60-day comment period on the proposed rulemaking that begins with publication of the proposal in the Federal Register. NHTSA is providing a 45-day comment period on the Draft EIS. The proposal and information about how to submit comments are here for EPA and here for NHTSA.



Will S

After Reagan froze CAFE in the early 80s (and actually dropped the minimum by 1 mpg), we are finally addressing this much needed topic again.

This will help with reducing our dependence on foreign oil, GHG emissions, terrorist funding (through contributions from oil rich ME nations), minor mitigation for peak oil, and foreign trade deficit.

Nick Lyons

Good incentive to sell all-electric and plug-in cars to get the fleet average up. Incrementally increasing gas taxes makes even more sense, but seems to be out of the question politically (sigh).


That's about the equivalent of 150 g/km CO2.

The US imports ~60% of it's oil. 21% improvement does not reduce oil imports sufficiently.

What else would help?

Henry Gibson

The speed limits must be reduced again if there is any real intent for automobile efficiency, otherwise these actions are mere window dressing and putting the blame on the companies who have very little choice in what cars people buy. CO2 rations per US citizens would be much more fair. It is the people that buy the cars and demand bigger and less effficient vehicles. In the UK tax laws and in other countries vehicle were taxed on their horsepower. Introduce a horsepower tax in addition to the fuel tax. ..HG..



I agree 20% reduction is definitively not enough, they need to propose a follow up after 2016.

My proposal is to give carbon credit to Cyclists upon the miles they ride (thanks to an odometer) then they can auction their carbon credit, in short to pay people to ride their bike.

Stan Peterson

Irrelevant, except that no rational engineering or production ideas can be developed and implemented in these short time frames. Most 2012 auto designs are locked in concrete, already. It just takes time to design, build, test, qualify all the regulatory tests, and prepare tooling for modified factories to mass produce a complex product like an automobile.

This is make-work fo rbureaucrats.
It is also irrelevant because California's Dr. Quack Quack has already indicated he will change CARB's "unified" regulations in 2010, to something else. Under the iron law of bureaucracy, he is worried that CARB is s now redundant and unneeded. He wants to keep a paycheck coming, especially in California's desperate budgetary problems.

It gets more and more irrelevant as most new vehicles are already either PZEV, ZERO POLLUTION vehicles, or SULEV level vehicles, equivalent to sub-T2B2 and better emission levels. In either case, the output of the tailpipe is now cleaner than the ambient air going into the engine. Our air is getting cleaner, and cleaner every day, and the Day of Victory draws near.

Instead of celebrating the final cleanup of the auto and our air, it is a victory we have now successfully fought for 40 years to beat. It has been a long battle ever since Mr. Nixon formed the EPA, and sponsored the first Earth Day.

In our moment of triumph, the bureaucrats and hangers-on are scrambling to find a "raison d'etre" to continue to feed at the public trough.


Stan Peterson

Repetitive obsessional behavior, you are good for the assylum...


"What else would help?"

DME from NG/biomass for trucks. More than 6 million 18 wheelers use as much fuel each year as all the cars combined. They get 4 mpg and run 100,000 miles per year.

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