The Leaflet: EPA Hits the Brakes on Fuel Economy Standards

Published April 5, 2018

In 2010, President Obama directed EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to propose emissions regulations for vehicle model years 2017 and beyond. The Final Rules for Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Greenhouse Gas, approved by Obama, mandate automobile manufactures produce a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) for light-duty vehicles by 2025. The Obama directive on vehicles for 2025 came shortly after the administration already increased mpg standards to require a fleet average of 35.5 mpg by 2016.

On Monday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt released the Midterm Evaluation of Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Model Years 2022–25. The EPA evaluation reports current fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles are too stringent and claims auto manufacturers would likely need to increase vehicle costs to reach these unrealistically high (possibly unattainable) fuel economy levels.

For decades, California has set its own greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency standards, which other states have also adopted, and California policymakers have indicated they would like to continue imposing a higher standard than what EPA plans to permit. A special exemption in the Clean Air Act allows the Golden State to request in-state environmental regulations that are more severe than federal rules. Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and six other states currently match California’s standards—including its zero-emissions vehicles standard.

Since 2012 in California and other states, large vehicle manufacturers have been forced to sell “compliance cars,” electric vehicles (EVs), produced solely to meet the zero-emissions vehicles standard quota. Even though manufacturers lose money on these electric cars, they continue to produce EVs as a result of the mandate.

In addition to being costly, EVs expose humans, animals, and plant life to three times more toxicity than traditional combustible-engine vehicles, recent research from Arthur D. Little finds. The construction of lithium-ion battery packs used in EVs results in higher carbon-dioxide emissions than those produced when traditional cars are manufactured. And because electric cars have very limited driving range (less than 100 miles), the batteries must be recharged often—consuming electricity from fossil-fuel-fired power plants. The limited range, lack of public charging stations, and hours-long recharge sessions virtually necessitate dual-ownership of EVs and traditional cars, especially for long-distance travel.

Pruitt has said he might reject California’s next waiver and impose a reasonable national standard on emissions and fuel standards. “Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country. EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars,” Pruitt said.

In 2017, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) requested Pruitt reconsider Obama’s increased standards, citing electric vehicles’ low sales figures and the $200 billion in compliance costs that must be paid by automakers. AAM claims these costs act as barriers to achieving the 2025 fuel economy goal.

States should not increase mpg standards and onerous regulations on automobile emissions to appease environmentalists. Instead, they should remove these burdensome rules on manufacturers, making cars consumers actually want readily available and more affordable. 


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