Environmental Leaders Call for 60 mpg by 2025

Today my executive director, Peter Lehner, along with a coalition of environmental and science organizations, sent a letter calling on President Obama to  seize a critical opportunity to reduce American oil consumption and carbon emissions by establishing new vehicle pollution and fuel economy standards that would:

  • Increase average new car and light truck mileage to at least 60 MPG while reducing carbon pollution levels to no more than 143 grams-per-mile of greenhouse gas pollution by model year (MY) 2025. 
  • Reduce fuel consumption from long-haul tractors pulling van trailers by 35 percent and achieve the maximum reductions for all other medium- and heavy-duty trucks – the first-ever standards for these vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Safety Transportation Agency’s (NHTSA), as directed by the President in May, are due to take action on two separate proposals at the end of this month to set stronger pollution and fuel economy standards for both passenger vehicles and commercial trucks.

  • The EPA and NHTSA joint “Notice of Intent for a Proposed Rule” for passenger vehicles due at end of month should be thought of as a pre-proposal.  According to President Obama’s memorandum, it will announce “plans for setting stringent fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for light-duty vehicles of model year 2017 and beyond, including plans for initiating joint rulemaking…” The “Draft Proposed Rulemaking” (essentially a more specific, more detailed proposal) will not be released until mid 2011 when EPA and NHTSA will begin accepting public comments period from stakeholders.  A final rule is not expected until late 2011 or early 2012.
  • On the medium and heavy duty truck front – which includes everything from Ford F250s to eighteen wheelers  -- EPA and NHTSA are expected in October to release the very specific draft proposal (“Notice of Propose Rulemaking”) to establish the first- ever carbon dioxide pollution fuel economy standard  for MY 2014-2017. The presidential memorandum projected that big tractor-trailer rigs can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.  After receiving public comment and making revisions, this rule will be finalized by July 2011.

The process for setting passenger vehicle estandards has evolved dramatically since Congress passed the original Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) law in 1975.

Following is a brief history of car greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards to put the current process in context:


Congress enacts the first Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standard in the wake of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo.


No significant action to increase fuel economy standards to cars and trucks.


AB 1493 (“Pavley Law”) passed in California directing the California Air Resources Board to develop the first ever standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars.


California requests a waiver from the U.S. EPA, with authority granted to it by the Clean Air Act of 1963, to implement its “Pavley” greenhouse gas standards


The U.S. Supreme Court rules that CO2 and other greenhouse gases are “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act and that EPA (and by extension California) has authority to set standards to control greenhouse gas emissions.


First Congressional increase in fuel economy standards in over three decades is set at 35 mpg by 2020 as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA of 2007).


Under the Bush Administration, the EPA denies California’s waiver to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes.


Unprecedented Rose Garden Announcement that brought together federal and state governments, automobile industry executives, labor leaders and environmentalists in a remarkable agreement to cut pollution, improve our national security, and rebuild our economy.  President Obama issues a memorandum for EPA to reconsider California’s denied waiver and directed the EPA and the Department of Transportation to set emission and fuel economy standards to 2016 consistent with California’s Pavley standards, about 35 mpg.


2012-2016 standards announced in May 2009 are officially published this April.


President Obama made an announcement in May that his administration would set the next stage of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas cars and trucks for  model years 2017 – 2025 and set the first-ever standards for heavy trucks that will save consumers billions of dollars at the gas pump, the grocery shelves, and the shopping center. 

California is clearly recognized as a full partner in setting the next phase of passenger vehicle standards.  The President’s memorandum specifically calls out “the continued leadership role of California and other States,” and directs EPA and NHTSA to work with California to produce a technical assessment of the potential for further greenhouse gas reductions and fuel economy improvements through new and emerging technologies that can be deployed in new cars and light trucks through 2025. Unfortunately it looks like the agencies have missed the President’s September 1st deadline for the assessment, but they are not expected to delay the September 30th proposal.

As I’ve said in my previous blog, 60 mpg is good for consumers, good for the environment and good for jobs. We estimate strong passenger and commercial truck standards will save 49 billion gallons of oil and 535 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030.

Our 60 mpg target is also consistent with what the President believes is possible and what California expects.

  • On May 21st, the President asked the agencies to develop “stringent” standards for cars and light trucks and specifically stating, “I believe that it’s possible, in the next 20 years, for vehicles to use half the fuel and produce half the pollution that they do today.” 
  • California, in its letter of commitment, outlined its expectation of a proposal that would deliver an annual rate of improvement “ in the 3 to 6 percent range.”  

According to our analysis, conducted jointly, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, 60 mpg can be achieved through mix of technologies, primarily hybrids but also electric vehicles. (See my colleague Luke Tonachel's blog for more details). As described in my last blog, our target is in line with recent studies from the University of Michigan and the Consumer Federation of America. By 2015, a four-fold in increase in hybrid and EV model offerings, from today’s 23 to over 100, is expected, according to recent forecast.

The evidence is clear:  the standards called for by NRDC and others are achievable, economical and the best for the consumer and our environment.