Products Liability Law Daily EPA and NHTSA issue final rule on automobile fuel economy and emissions standards
Monday, May 4, 2020

EPA and NHTSA issue final rule on automobile fuel economy and emissions standards

By Leah S. Poniatowski, J.D.

Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule "strikes balance" between environmental protection and vehicle safety and afford ability.

In a collaborative effort between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agencies issued the final Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, which will take effect June 29, 2020. The ruling will affect model year 2021-2026 passenger cars and light trucks by requiring vehicles to increase their emissions standards stringency by 1.5 percent per year, and the reduced regulatory costs are expected to improve U.S. competitiveness by reducing vehicle cost (NHTSA Final Rule85 FR 24174, April 30, 2020).

In explanation of the ruling, the agencies stated that they aimed to facilitate the ability of automobile manufacturers to meet all requirements under both programs to the extent possible within the statutory directives issued to each agency, with a single national fleet under one national program of fuel economy and tailpipe-CO2 emissions regulation.

According to a NHTSA press release, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated, "Our final rule puts in place a sensible one national program that strikes the right regulatory balance that protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry. This rule supports our economy, and the safety of American families."

Scope. These standards will impact light-duty vehicles, which, for purposes of regulation, NHTSA divides into passenger cars and light trucks, and EPA divides into passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles (i.e., sport utility vehicles, cross-over utility vehicles, and light trucks).

Stringency rate change. Notably, the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and CO2 emissions standards established by the final rule will increase in stringency at 1.5 percent per year from model year (MY) 2020 levels over MYs 2021–2026. The "1.5 percent" rate is new for the final rule and was not expressly analyzed in the proposed rule [see Products Liability Law Daily’s August 24, 2018 analysis]. According to NHTSA’s press release, the change from the prior 5 percent rate, which had been issued in 2012 and was indicated in the proposal in 2018, was made in consideration of the fact that the majority of auto makers were not meeting the 2012 standard without resorting to the use of credits.

Safety improvement projections. NHTSA stated in another press release that as its research has shown that newer vehicles are safer, newer vehicles featuring the latest safety technology will be more affordable. Thus, there will be about 3,300 fewer crash fatalities and 397,000 fewer injuries in crashes over the lifetimes of vehicles built through model year 2029.

Improved afford ability. The agencies contended that by reducing the average price of a new vehicle by about $1,000, this "right-sized rule" will make it easier for Americans to afford to buy newer, cleaner, and safer vehicles. Specifically, an effect of the new rule will be the reduction of regulatory costs by as much as $100 billion through model year 2029. According to NHTSA/EPA projections, it will also boost new vehicle sales through model year 2029 by up to 2.7 million vehicles.

MainStory: TopStory FinalRules MotorVehiclesNews

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