Washington, D.C. – The U.S. has announced a commitment to establish a unified national program that sets tailpipe emissions standards and accelerates a new fuel economy standard.

Under the program, the new CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards would average 35.5 mpgUS (6.7 L/100 km). The figure breaks down to 39 mpg (6.0 L/100 km) for cars and 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) for light trucks. It is estimated that through the life of the program and the vehicles involved, the new standards will save approximately 1.8 billion barrels of oil and reduce carbon emissions equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road for a year.

“For seven long years, there has been a debate over whether states or the federal government should regulate autos,” said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 11 domestic and import automakers. “President Obama’s announcement ends that old debate by starting a federal rulemaking to set a national program. Automakers are committed to working with the President to develop a national program administered by the federal government.

“What’s significant about the announcement is it launches a new beginning, an era of cooperation. The President has succeeded in bringing three regulatory bodies, 15 states, a dozen automakers and many environmental groups to the table. We’re all agreeing to work together on a national program,” McCurdy said.

The Alliance said that a national program is a priority to automakers, because it will allow them to average sales nationwide across all 50 states, avoids conflicting standards from different regulatory agencies, and gives automakers certainty for long-term product planning. The program will also deliver overall greenhouse gas reductions equal to, or better than, those that would be realized under separate programs by different regulatory bodies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) intend to initiate a joint rulemaking that reflects a coordinated and harmonized approach to implementing the Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. The rulemaking is expected to harmonize NHTSA and EPA standards to be attribute-based, or based on a vehicle’s “footprint,” which allows for a range of sizes of vehicles to meet consumer needs for passenger and cargo room.

The program is also intended to give automakers sufficient lead-in time to incorporate technology as part of existing vehicle design schedules, as automakers would know what standards would be in place through 2016, and will providing flexibility in achieving CO2-reduction goals, with the EPA and NHTSA considering a range of compliance measures, including earned credits, credit trading, air conditioning credits, and credits for using additional technologies that reduce CO2.

In 2005, California asked the EPA to grant a preemption waiver under the Clean Air Act to enable the state to enforce a program to reduce global warming pollution from motor vehicles. The EPA denied the request in 2008. Under the new program, the EPA is expected to grant the state’s request to enforce its clean car standards while the U.S. develops harmonized national emission standards and fuel economy standards under federal law. Significantly, the nation’s automakers would drop long-standing litigation over the state’s clean car standards.

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