Plans to Block EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Powers Won’t Derail Higher Fuel Efficiency Standards

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska with reporters />

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, responds to reporters.

New proposals in the Senate and House to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases have little chance of stopping higher fuel efficiency standards from going into effect.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, last week introduced a bill to block EPA’s power under the Clean Air Act to limit emissions from motor vehicles and other sources. Two key House Democrats followed with a similar bill.

Murkowsk’s efforts to block EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions started last fall. She first introduced an amendment in September 2009, saying the regulations would result in an “economic train wreck.” At that time, Murkowski said the block on EPA’s powers would only affect stationary emissions sources—like power plants, refineries and manufacturers—and that regulation of automobile emissions could continue. The Senate declined to take up Murkowski’s proposal.

The new proposals put vehicle emissions back into consideration. Yet, these plans have little hope because efforts to block the EPA would face a tough battle from a Democratic-led Congress and would face a veto from President Obama.

The Key to a Single MPG Law

The new proposals would undermine the 2007 Supreme Court ruling giving the EPA the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act—which was fundamental in securing a grand compromise between the auto industry, labor, legislators and environmentalists for a single national standard for fuel efficiency. New Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency rules, proposed in 2009 and scheduled to phase in beginning in 2011—require cars and trucks to average 35.5 mpg by 2016, up from 24 mpg today.

The proposed higher fuel efficiency standards are expected to reduce emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. That’s the projected equivalent of taking 58 million cars off the road for an entire year. It would save motorists $3,000 in fuel over the lifetime of the vehicles, but add an average of $1,300 to the purchase price of a new vehicle.

Automakers welcomed the single national efficiency standard, because it provides clear national goals to reach. Their plans for more hybrids and introduction of electric cars are, in part, predicated on the need to reach these new standards.

A successful effort to block the EPA could jeopardize the single MPG rule, and ultimately force automakers to spend even more money to produce more fuel-efficient cars. That’s because California and a dozen states could go forward, each with its own rules, creating confusion for automakers, which would need to understand and respond to multiple rules in different regions of the country.

O. Kevin Vincent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s chief counsel, said Murkowski’s bill “would have profoundly adverse effects on the national economy, national environmental and energy security objectives, and the economically distressed automobile manufacturing industry.”


  • AP

    Whatever your intentions are with regards to pollution control, it’s pretty clear that California over-reached its authority to control CO2 emissions, thereby setting fuel-economy requirements, which was expressly in the hands of the Congress through CAFE.

    Just because your motives are good, that doesn’t mean you can break the law. How their distortion of the law was OK’d by the Supreme Court is a deep mystery. The law they used was the “Clean Air” Act, not the “I’m worried that the Earth will Warm and the Ocean is Going to Flood LA” Act.

  • AP

    Well-chosen photo to mock the Senator by the way.

  • Samie

    Unless I am wrong California does have the right to make their own CO2 emission standards as the state law preempted federal law.
    By no means did they over-reach sorry AP I have to disagree with you on that.

    As for Murkowski, R-Alaska mmmm… sounds like someone does not want CO2 to be considered in the Federal Registry for the proposed impact statements that could hurt new oil field exploration.

    (She [Murkowski] first introduced an amendment in September 2009, saying the regulations would result in an “economic train wreck.” )

    An economic train wreck? I thought conservatives were suppose to be conservative? Not short-term fiscally irresponsible people, as that is often the branding of liberals. I guess I am referring to the Neo Cons, to bad we have silly politics and no desire to think long-term. Heck these clowns will not even let markets innovate to produce cleaner technologies. I hope future generations have a bit more civility then what is being presented now…..

  • AP

    Samie, the Clean Air Act was passed in the 1960′s to control air pollutants. CO2 was not considered a pollutant at that time, and not until perhaps 20+ years later. CO2 is not mentioned in the Clean Air Act as a pollutant.

    The only reason California was given special treatment in the Law was their special situation: the LA Basin, which traps HC’s, CO, and NOx and makes smog: a local problem.

    There is no way the Federal government meant to give them the power to limit CO2 emissions, which are a natural byproduct of burning gasoline or diesel fuel. This means CO2 emissions limits are fuel economy requirements. This conflicts with the US Congress’ exclusive power to mandate fuel economy. Consider this:

    Why would the Federal government intentionally give one state the power to control a “pollutant” (CO2) that

    1) produces no unique problems to that state, and
    2) isn’t considered to be a pollutant.

    To top it off, when they wrote CAFE 10 years later, they specifically excluded states from setting their own fuel economy standards. Obviously they weren’t expecting California to do just that. California’s later reinterpretation is ludicrous.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    AP,
    While the actual legal status is probably contentious, I personally believe that this kind of activity, as well as things such as CAFE are best left to the States. This way, if it ends up having bad, unintended consequences, we may be able to tell by comparing results between states that do and don’t enact such totalitarian mandates.
    Personally, I believe that since the control of intra-state transportation is a constitutionally mandated state right; California does have the right to mandate anything they want to regarding their transportation systems. It doesn’t matter how badly Michigan may not like it.
    Personally, I don’t care what a bunch of politicians or automobile manufacturers want to force me to drive. I’m going to do whatever I can to get the kind of car I want to drive. I hope that others do as well.
    I highly recommend that everyone boycott the automakers and tell them so (see http://www.pluginamerica.org/take-action-now/contact-automakers.html). Keep driving your current vehicle until the right car comes on the market. You’ll save money by driving that old clunker so you’ll be better able to afford the right car when it comes available. If/when you absolutely MUST buy a new car, make it the one that is closest to the right one that you can find.

  • Samie

    AP
    Your reasoning proves why California was allowed to mandate CO2 regulation. Public welfare ie. the scientific proof that linked human health affects to CO2 gave California the authority and loophole needed to create different CAFE requirements. If Congress had addressed CO2, California would not have been allowed to do this. If you look carefully at congressional legislation to grant federal agencies the scope of activities possible you will often see vague and flexible rules that grant agencies tremendous powers.

    ex-EV1 driver
    By no means would it legally be possible for states to come up with their own standards for fuel consumption, that is below a federal standard or say if you removed a federal standard. If air pollution crosses state lines and if proven that the state’s auto emissions affects (in bad faith) the health and safety of citizens of another state it becomes a FEDERAL ISSUE. The argument that politicians force consumers to buy into certain vehicles is right but evidence suggests that it is not the eco-mobile many claim. If we directly paid for securing petro resources and did not subsidize the oil industry consumer behavior would move towards more fuel efficient vehicles or other alternatives to petro. Also in terms of raw energy in producing the new vehicle you are right but I wonder if leaking of fuel or exhaust from an old vehicle mitigates some claims you hear.

  • AP

    ex-EV1 driver, you may not think you care what automakers think (it’s not just the ones in Michigan-it’s every manufacturer), but if every state had their own regulations, the development, design, and production process would be even more expensive, and technicians in every state would have to have separate training, etc. It would be ridiculous, stupid, and unnecessary. You can’t be serious that each of the 50 states needs their own version of a car. If anything, countries are trying to commonize regulations and provide better value for consumers. It’s a win-win.

    Samie, I haven’t seen any scientific proof that the health of Californians are affected by CO2 produced in California any more than Washingtonians, Oregonians, or the rest of us are. If CO2 is a problem at all, it’s a GLOBAL problem, and needs to be taken care of by our Federal government. California should pay more attention to its own destruction of the desert environment, diversion of rivers, filling the Grand Canyon with smog, etc., rather than trying to single-handedly save the rest of us.

    If California really wanted to reduce fuel usage in California, they would raise their gas tax by a dollar or so. Then they wouldn’t need to have CO2 emissions standards at all, and they might also help their budget problems.

  • SM

    California can enforce it’s own clean air standards. The way I have it is, If they pass a new set of air emission regulations they can then ask the EPA for a waiver which gets them around the Federal standards. As previously mentioned they were allowed to do this due to the situation with Los Angeles.

    California has asked for a few waivers and most times they have been approved. Once a waiver is approved other states are allowed to adopt the California standard

  • AP

    SM, CO2 has no effect on LA. It isn’t a poisonous gas.

    Any powers given to this “locale” were intended to be for the “local” problem. California was given an opportunity to take care of themselves and they abused it by “solving” a global problem.

  • jammy1

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