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Federal Fuel Efficiency Standards

Fuel efficiency for motor vehicles has largely remained stagnant since the 1970s, despite available and reasonably priced technology. With rising gas prices, and in light of environmental concerns, consumers should have the right to buy efficient vehicles.

Man pumping gas into his car with cash in his hand.

During the Bush Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (which sets tailpipe emission standards) and the Department of Transportation (which, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Board (NHTSA), sets fuel efficiency standards) did little to move the industry forward. In the face of this federal inaction, the Attorney General pushed the federal government through comments and litigation, and California moved forward with its own clean car standards (the Pavley standards). California’s standards, in turn, were challenged by industry. See California’s Clean Car Standards.

On May 19, 2009, President Obama announced a new national policy aimed at increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions for all new cars and trucks sold throughout the U.S. The new national policy, which harmonizes greenhouse gas emissions standards and fuel economy standards, is the result of an agreement among California, the federal government, and the automobile industry.

As part of the agreement, EPA and the federal Department of Transportation jointly developed new federal standards for model years 2012-2016 that will require an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 mpg in 2016. This is roughly equivalent to Pavley's 2016 greenhouse gas emission standard and surpasses the standard set in the fuel economy law passed by Congress in 2007.

The automobile industry dismissed all of its litigation opposing California's standards and agreed not to challenge EPA's waiver grant. To facilitate implementation of the new standards, CARB has adopted some technical modifications to its regulations that will allow automakers to coordinate their demonstration of compliance with California's standards and federal greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards.

On September 8, 2009, in violation of the spirit of the nationwide agreement, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Automobile Dealers Association sued EPA to challenge its granting of the waiver to California for its standards. California intervened in that matter to assist EPA in defending the waiver decision. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the Chamber's petition on April 29, 2011. Read the decision, pdf

In July 2011, with support from California, President Obama announced the extension of federal standards to include model years 2017-2025. These standards are in-line with those the California Air Resources Board has adopted through its Advanced Clean Cars program.

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