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Broad opposition to EPA, NHTSA proposed freeze of GHG, CAFE regs

US EPA and DOT propose freezing light-duty fuel economy, GHG standards at 2020 level for MY 2021-2026 vehicles; 43.7 mpg for cars; 50-state solution

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released their long-expected notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to adjust the Congressionally-mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards. This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is the first formal step in setting the 2021-2026 Model Year (MY) standards that must be achieved by each automaker for its car and light-duty truck fleet.

The joint proposal also launches the Administration’s initiative to establish a new 50-state fuel economy and tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions standard for passenger cars and light trucks covering MY 2021 through 2026. Specifically, EPA is proposing to withdraw the waiver of CAA preemption for California’s Advanced Clean Car (ACC) program, Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) standards that are applicable to model years 2021 through 2025.

In the larger proposal, EPA and NHTSA are seeking public comment on a wide range of regulatory options, including their preferred alternative that freezes the standards at the MY 2020 level (specifically, the “footprint” or “size-based” target curves for passenger cars and light trucks) through 2026.

Under the preferred alternative, the estimated CAFE and CO2 curves for passenger cars would average out to 43.7 mpg (5.38 l/100 km) for CAFE, and 204 g CO2/mile for GHGs for MYs 2021-2026. The requirements for light trucks would be 31.3 mpg (7.51 l/100 km) and 284 g CO2.

EPA is also proposing to exclude CO2-equivalent emission improvements associated with air conditioning refrigerants and leakage (and, optionally, offsets for nitrous oxide and methane emissions) after model year 2020.

Broadly, the agencies’ rationales for the changes include:

  • Technologies have played out differently in the fleet from what the agencies assumed in 2012. The proposal says that the technology to improve fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions has not changed significantly since prior analyses were conducted. A wide variety of technologies are still available to accomplish the goals of the programs, and a wide variety of technologies would likely be used by industry to accomplish these goals.

    There remains no single technology that the majority of vehicles made by the majority of manufacturers can implement at low cost without affecting other vehicle attributes that consumers value more than fuel economy and CO2 emissions, the agencies said.

    Even when used in combination, technologies that can improve fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions still need to (1) actually work together and (2) be acceptable to consumers and avoid sacrificing other vehicle attributes while also avoiding undue increases in vehicle cost.

    Optimism about the costs and effectiveness of many individual technologies, as compared to recent prior rounds of rulemaking, is somewhat tempered; a clearer understanding of what technologies are already on vehicles in the fleet and how they are being used, again as compared to recent prior rounds of rulemaking, means that technologies that previously appeared to offer significant “bang for the buck” may no longer do so. Additionally, in light of the reality that vehicle manufacturers may choose the relatively cost-effective technology option of vehicle lightweighting for a wide array of vehicles and not just the largest and heaviest, it is now recognized that as the stringency of standards increases, so does the likelihood that higher stringency will increase on-road fatalities. As it turns out, there is no such thing as a free lunch.


  • Technology that can improve both fuel economy and/or performance may not be dedicated solely to fuel economy. As fleet-wide fuel efficiency has improved over time, additional improvements have become both more complicated and more costly, the agencies said. First, there is a known pool of technologies for improving fuel economy and reducing CO2 emissions. Many of these technologies, when actually implemented on vehicles, can be used to improve other vehicle attributes such as “zero to 60” performance, towing, and hauling, etc., either instead of or in addition to improving fuel economy and reducing CO2 emissions.

  • This makes actual fuel economy gains more expensive. Even though the technologies may be largely the same, previous assumptions about how much fuel can be saved or how much emissions can be reduced by employing various technologies may not have played out as prior analyses suggested, meaning that previous assumptions about how much it would cost to save that much fuel or reduce that much in emissions fall correspondingly short.

  • Incremental additional fuel economy benefits are subject to diminishing returns. As fleet-wide fuel efficiency improves and CO2 emissions are reduced, the incremental benefit of continuing to improve/reduce inevitably decreases. Put simply, a one mpg increase for vehicles with low fuel economy will result in far greater savings than an identical 1 mpg increase for vehicles with higher fuel economy, and the cost for achieving a one-mpg increase for low fuel economy vehicles is far less than for higher fuel economy vehicles. This means that improving fuel economy is subject to diminishing returns.

  • Changed petroleum market has supported a shift in consumer preferences. In 2012, the agencies projected fuel prices would rise significantly, and the United States would continue to rely heavily upon imports of oil, subjecting the country to heightened risk of price shocks.28 Things have changed significantly since 2012, with fuel prices significantly lower than anticipated, and projected to remain low through 2050.

The two agencies claimed that their analysis showed that the preferred alternative would prevent thousands of on-road fatalities and injuries as compared to the standards set forth in the 2012 final rule. The agencies said that the preferred alternative would improve vehicle affordability leading to increased use of newer, safer, cleaner and more efficient vehicles (hence their forecast drop in fatalities and injuries).

Under the preferred alternative, EPA and NHTSA estimate a reduction of up to 1,000 lives lost annually in fatal vehicle crashes; a $2,340 reduction in the average ownership cost of new vehicles; and $500 billion in cost savings for the US economy.

The agencies also claim that the preferred alternative would have negligible environmental impacts on air quality. They argue that improving fleet turnover will result in consumers getting into newer and cleaner vehicles, accelerating the rate at which older, more-polluting vehicles are removed from the roadways. Also, reducing fuel economy (relative to levels that would occur under previously-issued standards) would increase the marginal cost of driving newer vehicles, reducing mileage accumulated by those vehicles, and reducing corresponding emissions.

The agencies claim none of the regulatory alternatives considered in this proposal would noticeably impact net emissions of smog-forming or other criteria pollutants.

The agencies also claimed that the estimated effects of the preferred alternative in terms of fuel savings and CO2 emissions are relatively small as compared to the 2012 final rule.

NHTSA’s Environmental Impact Statement performed for this rulemaking shows that the preferred alternative would result in 3/1,000ths of a degree Celsius increase in global average temperatures by 2100, relative to the standards finalized in 2012. On a net CO2 basis, the results are similarly minimal, according to the proposal.

There are compelling reasons for a new rulemaking on fuel economy standards for 2021-2026. More realistic standards will promote a healthy economy by bringing newer, safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles to US roads and we look forward to receiving input from the public.

—DOT Secretary Elaine L. Chao

The public will have 60 days to provide feedback once the proposal is published at the Federal Register.

Background. NHTSA sets and enforces the CAFE standards, while EPA calculates average fuel economy levels for manufacturers, and sets related reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards.

NHTSA establishes CAFE standards through its authorities provided under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA), as amended by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), while EPA establishes GHG emissions standards under the Clean Air Act (CAA), as amended.

In April, the EPA issued the Mid-Term Evaluation Final Determination which found that the current MY 2022-2025 GHG standards are not appropriate and should be revised.

The joint proposal outlines a preferred alternative, and also requests comment on a broad range of options. In addition to the preferred scenario, several of the options proposed for public comment include fuel economy increases that range from 0.5% per year for both passenger vehicles and light trucks up to 2% per year for passenger vehicles and 3% per year for light trucks.

As for California, while the Clean Air Act (CAA) generally preempts state regulation of motor vehicles, California has been specially empowered to apply for a waiver from this preemption. EPA grants the waiver unless certain blocking conditions are triggered.

Under CAA section 209(b)(1)(B) (compelling and extraordinary conditions), EPA proposes to find that California does not need its GHG and ZEV standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions because those standards address environmental problems:

  • that are not particular or unique to California;

  • that are not caused by emissions or other factors particular or unique to California; and

  • for which the standards will not provide any remedy particular or unique to California.

Under CAA section 209(b)(1)(C) (consistency with section 202(a)), EPA proposes to find that California’s GHG and ZEV standards are inconsistent with section 202(a) because they are technologically infeasible in that they provide insufficient lead time to permit the development of necessary technology, giving appropriate consideration to compliance costs.

Furthermore, NHTSA has proposed to find that California’s GHG and ZEV standards are preempted under EPCA. EPA is soliciting public comment as to whether, if NHTSA finalizes EPCA preemption, that would provide a separate basis to withdraw the waiver separate and apart from its statutory analysis.



We could drive hybrids that get 40 mpg to import less oil and clean the air, but forget that now.


Yes SJC we could all drive hybrids that get 40 to 57 mpg or PHEVs that get 60 to 100+ mpge or BEVs/FCEVs that get 100+ mpge but will we, at least not until we have to pay much more for all the pollution and GHGs created by ICEVs?


Raising the gas tax would accomplish far more than cafe standards.


Gas tax is regressive, it hurts the poor the most.


Actually the really poor can't afford cars and the less poor only drive very small cars. It's the middle income that drive more miles in larger vehicles. Besides there are tax deductions that can remedy that. I think 5 years will get us EVs that are cheaper than ICEs.


The less poor will drive cars that are older that will get less mileage that more recent models. The greater cost will eat into any ability to save money for a better mileage replacement.

In Europe highly taxed fuel means more people drive diesel engined vehicles, because you get much better mileage. I can get over 50 mpg (imperial) in my Audi A6 2.7 TDi Avant which makes $8 per imperial gallon easier to live with. Mind you I use V-Power diesel which is more like $9 per gallon. The petrol equivalent might manage 35mpg on a similar run.

Now you have the green lobby with a vendetta against diesel - the same lobby that wanted and still want higher fuel taxes which resulted with more people resorting to diesel power. A spectacular own goal in that context.

Yes we have electric vehicles now but for a person like me who likes road trips to France or to visit family and friends range still needs to improve and costs need to drop. I'm the sort of person who avoids finance and pays cash for my cars and saves money in the meantime for the next car when needed. Hence, bought my 2012 Audi for £5k four years ago and will get another good four years out of it. For that sort of money you'd be lucky to buy electric. Anyway, with PHEVs the quoted mileage is a scam unless your the sort that gets away with running on electric mode most of the time. Otherwise 100 mpg is a myth for long distances.


Lots of rationalizations, but fuel economy is for the life of the car.


Raise gas taxes at the federal level - discourage consumption, fund clean energy infrastructure and reduce federal debt.

Provide large rebates for taking old cars off road and replacing with newer models. NOTHING will do a better job of clearing the air and reducing GHGs. NOTHING!

Provide continuing large rebates for the purchase of zero emission vehicles, meaning zero throughout the fuel supply chain. Battery-electric vehicles, for example, would be allowed to claim all charging comes from the renewable portion of the grid.

Jason Burr

They can put regulations and proposals in at the Federal level all they want. But here at state level, outside California, people do what they want with those emissions controls.

Quickest way to make the biggest ACTUAL reduction in emissions is enact FEDERAL required smog test. So EVERYBODY has to pass a smog test to get their registration stickers.

BTW - passed a new Dodge Cummins with Kentucky plates - belched a cloud of thick smog with every gear shift. Easy money to bet that truck has all its cats, DPF, EGR torn off for the sake of "I don't need any of that power robbing junk on my truck" attitude.


The bottom line is simple: "QUIT BURNING FOSSIL FUEL IN THE ATMOSPHERE." In the U.S., remove all subsidies, including oil an EV subsidies and let the technologies compete across the board. Without question the ICEV drivers couldn't afford the cost of unsubsidized fuel.


There is truth all around in all these comments, raising the gas tax would have a profound effect. It probably would do the most to end our use of carbon fuels, but the trade off would be a large portion of the mid to lower classes not being able to afford to drive.

I think the best incentives have been the cash for clunkers... I mean its goal was to take older cars off the road, and put disadvantaged people in new cars. The economy gets stirred up, the less fortunate get a decent shot at a newer cleaner car, and it's not disproportionately going to people making upper middle class wages buying luxury cars.

As for the diesel thing, i concur there needs to be a national program in place to verify safety and emissions capability of cars on the road. I'm not in a CARB state but we do both of those. Many studies point out a few bad actors causing most of our toxic pollution. Like one car rolling down the road with a draft tube pollutes as much as a few hundred others. Same with small motors. We pick on cars, but two strokes and other little motors exist where batteries and propane can really do so much better.

There are so many low hanging fruit. Get unsafe/older/more polluting cars off the road via incentives. Fix small displacement engines. Hold people accountable for the laws that we have now via testing.

Sure we could strangle the new car market, tax the hell out of fuel, and make it difficult for a vast portion of the populous.

I mean autonomous is right around the corner, if they wanted to, they (the government) could over the air send emissions data. I mean honestly they could have done it since the early 2000s.

Things will get better. It just takes time. Todays new cars were being planned over 5 years ago, and they'll stay on the road for 12+ years(probably). So that is a 17yr lag of technology. We can shorten that, with buybacks.

Electrics might hit parody soon for small cars, and that's great. Bigger vehicles will likely go hybrid for decades.

I'm hopping for a 1L turbo with 30kwh battery from Ford in the form of F150/Expedition. That would give all the soccer moms EV power for thier arduous day, and give great towing power via electric drive, and great regen capability. Big vehicles are necessary, but we could even get those to 30+MPG via hybridization. I don't think EV only trucks will sell, even with $8/gas. They'll just pass the buck down the line.


Yes, hybrids with ICE or FC range extenders could be one way to effectively reduce fossil/bio fuel consumption, pollution and GHGs from our beloved huge Pick-Ups and SUVs.

Taxis, delivery vehicles and city buses could use large batteries or FCs and/or a combo of both.


I'm hoping for a FC too, but near term, like 5-10 years I see ICE hybrid, maybe some FC introduction outside of Fleets and California happening now sometime after 7-10 years at the earliest in limited markets.

At around 150hp and a 30kwh pack you should be able to traverse the United States at highway speeds towing (I would think). Sure, the little engine might run in the 3-5K rpm range stressing itself at times, but I don't have any longevity concerns for typical use.

That 30Kwh pack should be able to move a pickup 50 miles, maybe 15 towing near max limit... but you should be able to recoup electrons while just cruising with the onboard. You'd have the advantage of Electric 4WD or AWD, and regen, maybe even a regen with pulling trailers in mind (like adaptively lighter on the trailer brakes to regen more on the vehicle).

This same idea can be applied to with FC, but hybrids could come tomorrow, and average people would buy them, not so with FC at the moment. Both however could be a no-compromise solution for the average 1/2 ton. It probably could even tow better, take off faster, ride more stable, etc than what we have today.
The 3/4 Ton range or higher might need more powerplant and battery, but even this level of power would be enough to make a dent in MPG.

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