California Already Looking Beyond 35 MPG

May 20, 2009

With the ink hardly dry on new 35-mpg fuel economy rules, California's already embarking on the next set of guidelines for emissions beyond 2016.

Reuters reports that the California Air Resources Board is "immediately getting to work on what the standards should be" beyond 2016, said the board's chairman, Mary Nichols.

Yesterday, President Obama said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) would adopt new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that met or exceeded those planned by the state of California, harmonizing federal and state emissions rules for the first time in a generation and toughening up national fuel-economy standards.

Obama's plan, however, provided no legal means to thwart future increases in California fuel-economy standards, leaving the legal question of whether states or the federal government makes those rules, open to debate.

Nichols told Reuters that she expects "a much more stringent standard" to be applied after 2016, when the current agreement between the Obama administration and CARB expires.

Congress wrote the original CAFE standards in 1975 and with only small increases since, fuel-economy regulations have stayed nearly the same for 34 years. California had tried to use carbon-dioxide emissions as a wedge to boost fuel economy standards, and ended up in court facing automakers who charged it would be too expensive to retool their new-vehicle fleets to match the planned California standard.

The new Obama plan provides for a car fleet average of 39 miles per gallon and 30 miles per gallon for light trucks, which will mean massive changes for purchasers of new cars and for automakers who must retool quickly to meet the new guidelines.

[Reuters]

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