In the Toolkit --


  • Guide to the Toolkit
  • Leagues in Action
  • I. Choosing a Role for Your League

    II. Grassroots Action Priorities

  • Climate Action
  • Price on Carbon
  • Our Children's Trust
  • Energy Efficient Buildings
  • Renewable Energy
  • Adapting to Climate Change
  • III. Basics of Climate Change

    IV. Engaging Individuals

  • Communicating About Climate Change
  • Preparing for a Meeting on Climate Change
  • Engaging Groups in Your Community
  • V. Promoting Public Policy

  • Community Action Models
  • Organizing For Community Action
  • Tips for Building Grassroots Support
  • League Action on Climate Change
  • International Action
  • VI. Resources

    EPA Regulation of Motor Vehicles

    In May 2009, President Obama announced a new national policy aimed both at increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution for new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. The policy reflected an unprecedented commitment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the state of California, and major auto manufacturers to collaborate on developing uniform national standards for the country.

    Regulatory background -- federal. Congress established the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program in 1975, in the aftermath of the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo. Its purpose is to reduce energy consumption by increasing fuel economy, e.g., the average mileage traveled per gallon of gasoline. DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for establishing the fuel economy standards.

    The initial goal was to double the 1974 passenger car fuel economy average by model year 1985 -- to 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg). Increasingly strict fuel economy standards were also established for light-duty trucks, eventually reaching 22.2 mpg for model year 2007.

    More recently, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set a goal of 35 mpg for the combined fleet of passenger cars and light trucks for model year 2020. NHTSA was charged with raising the CAFE standards to achieve this target.

    Regulatory background -- California. The Clean Air Act (CAA) allows California to set vehicle emission standards that are stricter than the federal standards -- if EPA grants it a waiver to do so. (California enjoys this distinction because it had adopted emission standards prior to passage of the Federal Air Quality Act of 1967, which recognized the state's continuing need for more stringent air pollution controls.) The CAA allows other states to adopt emission standards identical to California's.

    In 2002, California enacted a Clean Cars Law, directing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to adopt regulations that achieve the maximum feasible and cost-effective reduction in GHG emissions from motor vehicles. In 2004, CARB adopted regulations requiring a 30 percent cut in GHG emissions from motor vehicles sold in California by model year 2016. Thirteen other states adopted the California standard.

    CARB requested the required waiver from EPA in December 2005. After much controversy and a long delay, EPA finally denied the waiver in December 2007, the first time that a California waiver request had been denied.

    In January 2009, President Obama directed EPA to reconsider the waiver denial and to initiate any appropriate action. After a review of the scientific evidence and documents related to the prior decision, EPA granted the waiver in June 2009.

    National standards for light-duty vehicles -- model years 2012-2016. In April 2010, EPA and NHTSA finalized joint rules establishing a national program of standards for light-duty cars and trucks for model years 2012-2016. Once fully implemented in 2016, the standards will be equivalent to California's Clean Cars Law.

    The standards set the first-ever national regulation of GHG emissions and represent the largest improvement in vehicle fuel economy in over 30 years. Under the program, the combined average fuel economy of new passenger cars and light trucks will rise to an estimated 34.1 mpg for model year 2016 -- compared to a fleet efficiency today of 26.4 mpg.

    The GHG emission standards are predicted to yield a fleet-wide average of 250 grams CO2/mile in model year 2016, the equivalent of 35.5 mpg if all reductions came from fuel economy improvements. EPA predicts, however, that compliance flexibilities will allow the industry to meet the standards with a fleet average of 34.1 mpg.

    Over the lifetime of the 2012-2016 vehicles, the national program is expected to reduce GHG emissions by some 960 million metric tons, equivalent to taking 50 million cars and light trucks off the road. EPA and NHTSA estimate that the average cost increase for a model-year 2016 vehicle will be roughly $960, but the $4,000 that consumers will save in fuel will easily offset the increased cost of the vehicle.

    National standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses -- model years 2014-2018 In August 2011, EPA and NHTSA finalized first-ever emissions and fuel-efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, vans, and buses. These categories of vehicles accounted for 20 percent of the transportation sector's GHG emissions in 2007 and have not previously been covered by CAFE guidelines. The program covers model years 2014-2018 and was developed with support from industry, the state of California, and environmental stakeholders.

    EPA and NHTSA estimate that the combined standards will reduce CO2 emissions by about 270 million metric tons and save about 530 million barrels of oil over the life of model year 2014-2018 vehicles. According to the agencies' estimates, the program will cost the affected industry about $8 billion, while saving vehicle owners fuel costs of about $50 billion over the lifetimes of the vehicles.

    National standards for light-duty vehicles -- model years 2017-2025. In August 2012, EPA and NHTSA issued final rules extending the national program to further reduce GHG emissions and improve fuel economy for light-duty vehicles -- to model years 2017-2025. The standards are projected to achieve a fleet-wide average of 163 grams/mile of CO2 in model year 2025, the equivalent of 54.5 mpg if the vehicles were to meet this CO2 level through fuel economy improvements alone.

    This second phase of the light-duty vehicle program is projected to reduce GHG emissions by approximately 2 billion metric tons and to save 4 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of model year 2017-2025 vehicles. The agencies estimate that a consumer who purchases a model year 2025 vehicle will pay on average an additional $1,800 due to new vehicle technology but will benefit from $5,700-$7,400 in fuel savings over the lifetime of the vehicle.

    Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Standards. EPA finalized cleaner emission and fuel standards in March 2014. The new vehicle emission standards will reduce both tailpipe and evaporative emissions from passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty passenger vehicles, and some heavy-duty vehicles. The new fuel standards will reduce gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60 percent -- down from 30 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm by 2017. The new sulfur standard will make emission control systems more effective and will provide significant and immediate health benefits.

    Next Steps


    Last updated: 8/6/2015