Fed Tailpipe Standards Mirroring CA’s Launched

By Published On: April 2, 2010

The Obama administration April 1 finalized landmark automotive standards. The federal rules reduce the pressure on power plants and other stationary sources to curb their greenhouse gases. The new Environmental Protection Agency/Department of Transportation Corporate Average Fuel Economy and carbon pollution standards mirror California requirements. They apply to light-duty vehicles for model years 2012-2016. Over the lifetime of the vehicles built under the standard, the federal government estimates savings of 1.8 billion barrels of oil and greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 960 million metric tons. The standards require an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 mpg by 2016, up from today’s 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 24 miles per gallon for light trucks. California adopted greenhouse gas emissions standards for motor vehicles earlier this decade and in 2005 sought permission to enforce the limits, which differed from federal requirements at the time. The Bush Administration first delayed consideration and then denied permission, prompting the state to appeal the decision. President Obama not only reversed the Bush Administration’s actions but decided to adopt the California standards on a federal basis. Under the new performance-based rule, different methodologies may be applied to meet the goals. For instance, the California Energy Commission’s push to simply have the tops of vehicles painted white to lower air conditioning use and get better mileage would be credited, according to Washington-based environmental groups. * * * * Citing safety concerns, the California Air Resources Board dropped its “cool cars” rule March 25. The Air Board adopted the rule in June 2009 to cut greenhouse gases from vehicles. Agency executive officer James Goldstene suspended it due to concerns that new required window glass would cause electromagnetic interference with onboard vehicle electronics that control accelerators, brakes, and other crucial safety systems. The state move comes as the federal government launches a major examination of how vehicle electronic systems may affect automotive safety. Under the Air Board cool cars rule, beginning in 2012 automakers were to phase in new windows that reduce the amount of heat that enters vehicles from solar radiation. Less heat inside vehicles, the Air Board reasoned, would allow automakers to downsize air conditioning units, which would boost fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The agency estimated that when the regulation was fully phased in it would prevent 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year. Goldstene said that the agency would seek to still achieve the emissions reductions through an upcoming vehicle performance standard. The agency is planning rules to further tighten mileage requirements for vehicles beyond its current requirement. * * * * The federal Environmental Protection Agency March 29 issued a final rule that requires permits for construction or major modification of large stationary sources of emissions, such as power plants, to cover greenhouse gases beginning in 2011. Under the rule, aimed a preventing significant deterioration of air quality, projects will be subject to the Clean Air Act’s new source review provisions, which require best available control technology to limit emissions. * * * * The federal Environmental Protection Agency is reversing a rule that eased standards for building or altering power plants and other industrial facilities. EPA announced March 30 it was yanking a last minute Bush Administration rule issued early in 2009 under the Clean Air Act’s new source review provisions. It directed facilities and permitting agencies to combine emissions from construction projects only when the changes are “substantially related,” such as having more in common than the timing of construction. The new rule, if implemented, would “ensure that potential emissions increases that could harm air quality do not avoid review and the installation of state-of-the-art pollution controls,” EPA reported. “The most troubling aspect of today’s decision is that it again shows the predisposition of the current EPA to rely heavily on the NSR program to achieve policy goals,” according to Scott Segal, Electric Reliability Coordinating Council director EPA is proposing to revive an earlier policy that weighed numerous factors to ensure that potential emissions increases that could harm air quality could avoid permit review and installation of state-of-the-art pollution controls. * * * * The Kerry-Leiberman-Graham climate change bill failed to emerge this week. For the month of March, an alternative climate bill backed by Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CN), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) remains in negotiations. The bill is expected to replace the cap-and-trade bill currently in limbo that’s backed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Sources say that the inclusion of a cap-and-trade market in federal legislation is not a given. Another attempt at legislation, backed by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (D-ME), that promotes a cap-and-dividend alternative may be considered as part of an overall bill. California remains on track for its own cap-and-trade system underwritten by state law.

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