California Paves Way for National CO2 and Fuel Economy Standards

Eight years after California took the lead in the fight against global warming, Golden State’s clean car program is about to go national.  By this Thursday ,  the US EPA is set to finalize the first ever national limits on global warming pollution from new cars, patterned after California’s first-in-the-world greenhouse gas emission standards (often called the “Pavley standards” after the author of the landmark legislation passed in 2002, Fran Pavley).  Getting to the finish line was no easy feat; equal parts imagination and boldness with a healthy dose of trust.

Turning the California standards into a national program required complicated negotiations involving many key stakeholders: California  and 13 other states, the environmental community, the major automakers and the United Auto Workers, and the US EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.   Those negotiations culminated in the Clean Car Peace Treaty announced with great fanfare by President Obama last May, surrounded by top car company executives, governors, UAW, and environmental leaders (as well as myself in the audience).  California and the major automakers signed “commitment letters” delineating a series of steps to be carried out over the following year, culminating in this week’s expected announcement of the finalization of the rules for the national standards.  

The adoption of the national GHG emission standards once again validates the scientific and policy integrity of the California clean air programs. But perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates the power and wisdom of the original authors of the Clean Air Act in 1967 when they provided California with the unique state authority to set vehicle pollution standards. We look forward to working with all stakeholders interesting in continuing to move us forward on clean cars, solving global warming and reducing our dangerous dependency on oil.

Retrospective of the Road to Clean Cars

Here is what the key stakeholders have done over the past year to make good on their Clean Car Peace Treaty commitments:  

On June 30th, 2009, EPA granted California a waiver under the Clean Air Act allowing the state to implement its standards for model years 2009 to 2016.  EPA proposed and by April 1st will adopt national greenhouse gas emission standards for model years 2012 through 2016 that will deliver the same emission standard by model year 2016 (250 grams of CO2 per mile) as implementing California’s standards nationwide. 

California has successfully adopted all three regulatory changes it committed to in its letter.  First, California adopted changes on September 24, 2009 that allow multi-state averaging for model years 2009 to 2011, so that automakers can demonstrate compliance over their entire pool of vehicles sold in states with California’s program (a total of 14 states plus DC). Second, also at the same hearing, it adopted changes that  allow manufacturers to use test data from the federal fuel economy program (CAFE) to certify their new cars.  Finally on February 25th, 2010, California adopted an alternative compliance option for model years 2012 to 2016, allowing automakers that meet the US EPA’s national standards are deemed in compliance with the California program.

For their part, the automakers committed to not contest EPA’s granting of the California waiver, not to challenge the new EPA standards, and to first stay and then drop their litigation against the California Clean Car program.    Now that California and the federal government have met their obligations, we expect that the car makers will follow through on theirs.