U.S. Hits the Brakes on Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions
WASHINGTON, DC, September 15, 2009 (ENS) The Obama administration opened a new era in U.S. automotive history today by proposing the nation's first greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles. The emissions standards would be paired with stronger vehicle fuel efficiency standards in a coordinated national program to address climate change and energy security.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the program at a news conference in Washington.

"These proposed standards would help consumers save money at the gas pump, help the environment, and decrease our dependence on oil," said LaHood, "all while ensuring that consumers still have a full range of vehicle choices."

"American drivers will keep more money in their pockets, put less pollution into the air, and help reduce a dependence on oil that sends billions of dollars out of our economy every year," said Jackson. "By bringing together a broad coalition of stakeholders, including an unprecedented partnership with American automakers, we have crafted a path forward that is win-win for our health, our environment, and our economy."

Chicago traffic jam (Photo by Rasidel Slika)

The proposal builds upon core principles President Obama announced in May with automakers, the United Auto Workers, leaders in the environmental community, governors and state officials. Then, automakers committed to increase the average fuel economy in new vehicles by 40 percent to a combined 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, the standard set in today's proposal.

President Barack Obama told autoworkers at a General Motors assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio today, "For too long, our auto companies faced uncertain and conflicting fuel economy standards. ... That's why, today, we are launching, for the first time in history, a new national standard aimed at both increasing gas mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution for all new cars and trucks sold in America. This action will give our auto companies some long-overdue clarity, stability, and predictability."

"In the past," said Obama, "an agreement like this would have been impossible - but this time was different. Unlikely allies came together - automakers, the UAW, environmental advocates, Democrats and Republicans, California and more than a dozen other states - all of them pledging to set aside the quarrels of the past for the sake of the future."

The federal agencies are expected to issue final standards in March 2010, after a public comment period. The new standards would take effect with 2012 model cars and trucks and reach full strength by 2016.

To forestall competing federal and state standards, automobile manufacturers would build a single, light-duty national fleet that satisfies all federal requirements as well as the standards of California and other states.

President Barack Obama, center, meets with auto workers in Lordstown, Ohio. (Photo by Pete Souza courtesy The White House)

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is behind the "historic joint-rulemaking proposal," says Dave McCurdy, president and chief executive.

"The proposal provides manufacturers with a roadmap for meeting significant increases for model years 2012-2016," McCurdy said. "Final rules are essential to providing manufacturers with the certainty and lead time necessary to plan for the future and cost effectively add new technology. We look forward to working constructively with the Obama administration to provide comments and begin meeting our shared goals of increasing fuel economy, enhancing energy security, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through this single national program."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers represents BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota and Volkswagen.

The National Automobile Dealers Association said in a statement that while it supports the goal of a single, national fuel economy standard as "the best way to meet America's greenhouse gas and energy security challenges," the proposed program is "needlessly complicated and burdensome."

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the proposed national program follows his state's 2002 law to curb greenhouse gas emissions standards from automobiles that was just endorsed by the EPA in June. "California continues to lead the nation and the world in protecting the environment and fighting climate change," said the governor. "I am proud that our efforts to reduce energy consumption and carbon output serve as an example for the rest of the nation and the world."

Roland Hwang, vehicles policy director for the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, agrees. "These new national rules could not have happened without California's ground-breaking standards to tackle global warming pollution from cars and trucks," he said today.

"Working together, the Obama administration, states, the auto industry, and environmental leaders have come to an agreement that will enable car makers to meet the challenges of the 21st century, while protecting our planet and our health," said Hwang.

Rush hour in Atlanta, Georgia (Photo by Matt Lemmon)

"This is a critical step to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and curb pollution that threatens our health," said Fred Krupp, president of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. "It will deliver immediate benefits for the country as Congress crafts comprehensive climate legislation."

This is EPA's first action to curb greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, using the authority upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA.

Light-duty vehicles emit four greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons - and are responsible for nearly 60 percent of all U.S. mobile source greenhouse gases. CO2 emissions represent about 95 percent of all greenhouse emissions from light-duty vehicles, according to the EPA.

The proposed standards apply to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles and would require model year 2016 vehicles to meet an estimated combined average emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.

The overall light-duty vehicle fleet would reach 35.5 miles per gallon in model year 2016, if all reductions are made through fuel economy improvements.

If this happens, Congress' fuel economy goal of 35 mpg by 2020 will be met four years ahead of the schedule set by the the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, CAFE law passed in 2007.

Jackson and LaHood say the proposed national program would:

"Climate change is widely viewed as the most significant long-term threat to the global environment," the federal agencies say in their joint summary of the proposal.

The primary greenhouse gases of concern are carbon dioxide, CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. When emitted into the atmosphere, these gases blanket the Earth, trapping the Sun's heat close to the planet.

Mobile sources emitted 31.5 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gases in 2006, and have been the fastest-growing source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions since 1990.

Click here for a detailed view of the proposal.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.