EPA Determines Current Emissions Standards Are Not Appropriate

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EPA Determines Current Emissions Standards Are Not Appropriate

The EPA and the NHTSA will jointly review greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and lights trucks.
The EPA and the NHTSA will jointly review greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025 and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are getting a facelift.

After completing the Midterm Evaluation (MTE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt determined the current standards are not appropriate and should be revised — a process the agency will conduct with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"The Obama administration's determination was wrong," Pruitt said. "Obama's EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn't comport with reality, and set the standards too high."

In addition, the agency is still reviewing emission standards in California, according to Pruitt.

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA sets national standards for vehicle tailpipe emissions of certain pollutants. Through a CAA waiver granted by EPA, California can impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions of certain pollutants than federal requirements. The California waiver is still being re-examined by EPA, according to the agency. 

"Cooperative federalism doesn't mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country. EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars," Pruitt said. "It is in America's best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard."

Re-Establishing the MTE Process

As part of the 2012 rulemaking establishing the model year 2017-2025 light-duty vehicle GHG standards, EPA made a regulatory commitment to conduct an MTE of the standards for model year 2022-2025 no later than April 1, 2018. The evaluation would determine whether the standards remain appropriate or should be made more, or less stringent.  

The Obama administration issued a final determination on Jan. 12, 2017, days before leaving office. Since then, the auto industry and other stakeholders sought a reinstatement of the original MTE timeline, according to the EPA. 

In March 2017, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation re-established the MTE process and in August the agency reopened the regulatory docket and asked for additional information and data relevant to assessing whether the GHG emissions standards remain appropriate, including information on: consumer behavior, feedback on modeling approaches, and assessing advanced fuels technologies.

The EPA also held a public hearing on this topic.  

Industry Reaction

In October, Growth Energy submitted comments to the EPA in support of the use of higher biofuel blends. The organization also filed comments in August with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to inform its preparation of an environmental impact statement to analyze the potential environmental impacts of new CAFE standards for model year 2022-2025 light-duty vehicles.

"For several years, Growth Energy has strongly emphasized the fact that fuels and engines are a system and that high-octane fuels — such as ethanol blends like E25-E30 — should be part of this discussion," Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said.

"We have provided a wealth of data to show that midlevel ethanol blends can be used by automakers to produce smaller, more efficient engines that will help meet future vehicle standards. We will continue to remain engaged with automakers and government stakeholders to ensure that biofuels are part of any long-term plan for engine efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction," she added.

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) CEO Brian Jennings called the decision an opportunity for high-octane fuel to play a role in helping automakers reduce GHG emissions from automobiles.

"The previous administration refused to acknowledge the inescapable link between tailpipe emissions and fuel, overlooking the role fuels with a higher octane rating than today's gasoline could play in reducing GHG emissions and improving fuel economy," Jennings said.

He added ACE members are encouraged that Pruitt changed course and sought information on the potential for high-octane blends. The coalition also noted Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator with the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, brought up ethanol's octane benefits in his meeting with ACE members during its recent Washington, D.C. fly-in.

"Some might argue [the EPA's] decision means EPA will eventually relax GHG standards allowing more gasoline use and tailpipe pollution, but not if the new standards pave the way for E25-30 high-octane fuel in future engines," Jennings explained. "Ethanol-enriched, high-octane fuel enables automakers to simultaneously reduce GHG emissions and improve fuel economy. We are confident E25-30 blends will be the most affordable way to thread that needle."

ACE also outlined steps for the EPA to take during its next rulemaking process to enable high-octane fuel to play a role in helping automakers meet future GHG standards, including:

  • Approve an alternative certification fuel with 25-30 percent ethanol and a minimum octane of 98-100 Research Octane Number (RON) so automakers can begin testing future engines on a high-octane blend.
  • Establish a minimum octane performance standard for fuel in the range of 98-100 RON.  
  • Restore credits to automakers for the manufacture of flexible fuel vehicles and consider a new incentive for future engines designed to achieve optimal efficiency on high-octane fuels.

"For too long, our light-duty vehicle fuel economy and GHG emission regulations have focused exclusively on the vehicle. We have repeatedly encouraged EPA, NHTSA and the California Air Resources Board to also consider the important impact of fuels on fuel economy and emissions," said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

According to Dinneen, RFA also submitted information to the EPA — providing evidence that high-octane, low-carbon ethanol blends in optimized engines would be the lowest-cost means of achieving compliance with future fuel economy standards.

"We are glad to see EPA took notice of that information, and we again urge EPA and NHTSA to use the upcoming rulemaking to establish the roadmap to broad commercialization of high-octane fuels in optimized internal combustion engines," he said. "As we pointed out in previous submissions to the agencies, higher octane fuel would unleash and enable a wide pallet of low-cost engine technologies that offer proven fuel efficiency and GHG emission improvements at a low cost for consumers."