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Blog Post | July 10, 2024

The New Emissions Standards Are A Missed Opportunity For The Biden Admin’s Fight Against Climate Change

Climate and EnvironmentExecutive Branch
The New Emissions Standards Are A Missed Opportunity For The Biden Admin’s Fight Against Climate Change

Over the past four years, the Biden administration has continuously warned of the existential threat of climate change.

As a result, Biden has worked to position himself as a champion of climate policy. His tangible wins on the climate front include the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), landmark legislation that, among other achievements, reduces the costs of creating renewable energy.

Most recently, the Biden administration had the opportunity to address the climate crisis through the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rule. Unfortunately, it failed to meet the moment. 

The CAFE standard is critical for reducing emissions, and therefore protecting the climate, because it forces automakers and manufacturers to maximize their fuel efficiency and to minimize fuel use (and therefore emissions) as per the standard. The newly finalized standard increased the economy standard to require 50.4 miles per gallon by 2031, but disappointingly, it actually rolled back the much more stringent proposed standards unveiled in 2023. 

As a writer, I often poke fun at the awful things that I’m writing about. I cannot do that today, because the rule does accomplish its mission in reducing emissions, but the problem is these could have gone farther. For example, the new CAFE rule for model years 2027-31 modernizes the fuel economy standards by:

  • Increasing fuel economy for by 2% for passenger cars for model years 2029-2031;
  • Increasing the fuel economy by 2% for light trucks with model years 2029-2031;
  • Increasing efficiency for heavy duty trucks by 10% for model years 2030-2032;
  • Heightening standards for vans by 8% for model years 2030-2032.

Together, these standards could save almost 70 billion gallons of gasoline through 2050, which would reduce carbon emissions by 710 million metric tons. 

Yet, the Biden administration could have required even more stringent standards for automakers and guaranteed lower carbon emissions that harm the environment. The original proposed rule had a requirement of 4 percent for light duty trucks rather than the 2 percent in the finalized rule. In a headline on the new rules, the American Machinist summarized this as “NHTSA Goes Easy with CAFÉ Rules for Light Trucks”—and in an even more damning assessment, the industry outlet said the rule “slows” the pace of fuel economy standards. GreenLatinos described it as a “modest step” from the administration: “The rule does not go nearly as far as it could; the rule sets a CAFE standard that is only slightly more stringent than the previous round of standards.”  

While the rule does reduce emissions and also does increase standard efficiency, it does nothing to catch the country up to where we should be. What’s worse is that NHTSA seemingly caved to the pressure from industry groups like the Alliance for Automotive Innovation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. AAI and the Chamber sent a letter to the Department of Transportation claiming the proposed rule is “going too far, too fast, and would impose incrementally large costs on consumers during a period of growing uncertainty not just for automakers but the broader economy.”

The CAFE rule was a key opportunity for the Biden administration to implement a legacy that could radically alter the trajectory Americans are facing due to the climate crisis by mandating stricter emission standards on automakers. But instead of proving their dedication to dramatically reducing fuel emissions, the administration signed off on a rule that does the minimum of what climate advocates—and even some industry observers—expected of them. This is the kind of missed chance Biden’s NHTSA, and overall Department of Transportation can’t risk in the future. 

Climate and EnvironmentExecutive Branch

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