House Republicans hint at debate over car emissions

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee pressed for details yesterday on an upcoming review of fuel economy standards.

Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Michael Burgess (R-Texas) sent a letter to the heads of U.S. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggesting that public comment on the rules stands to be strong. Those agencies jointly set the greenhouse gas and corporate average fuel economy program standards for light-duty vehicles.

The congressmen asked for a more specific timeline, including dates for the comment period and for potential responses by the agencies. They also inquired about the degree of coordination among EPA, NHTSA and the California Air Resources Board (ARB), the three agencies that work together on setting the rules based on separate laws.

“We look forward to a Mid-Term Evaluation process that offers a robust opportunity for public participation, and that includes a comprehensive review of all information relevant to the 2022-2025 standards,” they wrote.

The standards, set in the fall of 2012, require automakers to reach a fleetwide average fuel economy of around 54.5 mpg by 2025. The fuel and emissions savings from the program, with which automakers have consistently complied, have been touted as a climate success by the Obama administration. Now, the standards are coming up on a midterm evaluation.

EPA, in conjunction with NHTSA and ARB, plans to decide by April 2018 whether the rules for model years 2022-25 should remain as they are, become more stringent or be loosened.

The first step is a draft technical assessment report, which will be issued around June 2016 and opened to public comment.

On its website, EPA wrote that it plans extensive outreach during the evaluation, meeting with automakers, nongovernmental organizations, consumer groups, labor unions, dealers, states and others.

The technical analysis will consider “developments in powertrain technology, vehicle electrification, light-weighting and vehicle safety impacts, the penetration of fuel efficient technologies in the marketplace, consumer acceptance of fuel efficient technologies, trends in fuel prices and the vehicle fleet, [and] employment impacts,” EPA said.

By 2030, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the standards could be equivalent to shutting down 140 typical coal-fired power plants for an entire year, according to estimates by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The calculations for the sticker fuel economy of cars aren’t the same as those for the standards, so the actual fuel economy of cars on the roads could be closer to 37 mpg by 2025. Today’s fleet has a fuel economy of around 21 mpg.

The transportation sector contributes around a third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, with light-duty vehicles accounting for around 60 percent of that.