Are We There Yet? Motor Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Rule Just a Pit-Stop, But Don't Ask for Directions.

Author:Mr Douglas Feichtner
Profession:Dinsmore & Shohl

On April 1, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency and DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) set national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for 2012 through 2016 model-year cars and light trucks.  This action represents the first-ever rule to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act.  While the public may focus on the anticipated fuel economy savings (35.5 mpg by model year 2016), these standards will trigger emissions limits on new and modified stationary sources, like power plants and refineries.  Whether (or when) the motor vehicle rule will impact even smaller stationary emitters (i.e., a large commercial apartment complex) is difficult to predict.  Tricky intersections remain on the road towards a low-carbon future.

The motor vehicle rule was a response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which found that GHGs were air pollutants for purposes of the Clean Air Act.  Two years later, the EPA Administrator issued two proposed findings under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act: (1) GHGs in the atmosphere endanger the public health and welfare, and (2) carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to those GHGs in the atmosphere and to the threat of climate change.  Both the endangerment finding and cause or contribute finding allowed EPA to advance and finalize the regulation of GHGs in cars and light trucks.

Broadly speaking, the final EPA/NHTSA motor vehicle rule does, among many other things, the following:

introduces fleet-wide CO2-equivalent emission standards for CO2 on a gram per mile (g/mile) basis that would apply to a manufacturer's fleet of cars, and a separate standard that would apply to a manufacturer's fleet of trucks (decreasing from 263 in model year 2012 to 225 g/mile in model year 2016 for cars, and 346 to 298 g/mile for light trucks) provides auto manufacturers with opportunity to earn credits toward fleet-wide average CO2 standards for improvements to A/C systems, including both HFC refrigerant losses and indirect CO2 emissions related to the increased load on the engine introduces separate emissions standards for two other GHG pollutants - methane and nitrous oxide incorporates a system of averaging, banking, and trading credits integral to the fleet-averaging approach, based on manufacturer fleet average CO2 performance offers several additional credit provisions...

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