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US EPA aims to propose revised passenger vehicles fuel efficiency standards by end of July

24 March 2021 Amena Saiyid

Michael Regan, the newly appointed head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), affirmed plans 24 March to rewrite GHG standards for light trucks and passenger vehicles with model years 2021 through 2026.

By the end of July, Regan said, the EPA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) will jointly issue a new proposal on their approach to rewriting the 2020 Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) rule in line with President Joe Biden's 20 January order.

"We are really working hard at that now," Regan told CERES21 conference participants at a discussion on the Biden administration's actions to date to build a climate-resilient economy.

"Once we have that proposal, we will follow up with a final rule that will ensure the standards meet the Biden administration's climate goals," he added.

Ceres is a Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies and investors to provide sustainable solutions.

The Trump administration's SAFE rule, which required a 1.5% improvement in GHG standards, was derided by many as being weak compared with the nearly 5% year-over-year increase the Obama administration sought in its rulemaking efforts. The SAFE rule also yanked California's right to set more stringent fuel economy standards than the rest of the nation, and for other states to join California's program.

Citing the upcoming rewrite as a concrete example of the Biden's administration to "build back better" a climate-resilient infrastructure, Regan said EPA will work closely with DOT's Federal Highway Administration to make sure that science and data underlie any future actions.

Regan also emphasized that any EPA decision making would account for the impact on disadvantaged communities that have had to shoulder the burden of toxic air pollution, especially from heavy duty trucks. He said he has especially appointed an adviser on environmental justice who will guide agency actions.

Transportation, a chief GHG source

Transportation is responsible for 28% of US GHG emissions -- the largest single category -- and passenger cars and light trucks make up 60% of that total, Regan said.

In 2019, the US emitted 6,577 million mt of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), or 5,788 million mt CO2e after accounting for sequestration from the land sector, according to the draft update to EPA's inventory of Total US GHG sinks and sources.

To date, more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have joined or passed legislation to join California's zero vehicle emissions program, with Virginia being the latest entrant.

National charging network

Stephanie Pollack, FHWA's acting administrator who spoke after Regan, offered yet another government solution for reducing GHGs, which involves setting up a national charging network to build acceptance of electric vehicles.

A national charging network would "build confidence in people buying EVs" so they won't have trouble looking for places to charge, she added.

When asked whether the FHWA would be working with utilities to provide this infrastructure, Pollack said the agency already has the authority over rights of way along the roads it oversees and builds.

The FHA would be coming out with new rules for rights-of-way along interstate highways, she said. Traditionally, those rights-of-way have been used for moving vehicles and materials, but Pollack said there is no reason why they cannot be used for charging stations and installing solar panels and wind turbines. "We really need to think differently" about the use of rights of way, she added.

Regan said the Biden administration is taking a "all-hands-on-deck" approach to reducing GHGs and finding alternative and sustainable solutions."Listen, we all will be rowing in the same direction" when it comes to addressing climate crisis, he added.

Ceres Executive Vice President Dawn Martin said policy makers all understand "what is at stake and are stepping up."

The key challenge for the US and all other countries is "not if we get to net zero, but how fast we can get there," she added.

Posted 24 March 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate & Energy Research Analyst, IHS Markit

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