Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
August 2017

Vol. 22, No. 32 Week of August 06, 2017

DOT begins EIS on CAFE standards

Starts process of reviewing federal fuel efficiency standards for passenger cars and light trucks following March order by Trump

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

Following an order in March by President Trump to review future standards for road vehicle fuel efficiency, on July 26 the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a proposal to prepare an environmental impact statement for the preparation of standards for new passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2022 to 2025. The proposal comes as part of a statutory requirement that the secretary of transportation must implement a regulatory program for motor vehicle fuel economy. The mandate was originally designed to help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil but has subsequently become part of U.S. efforts to minimize carbon dioxide emissions from the use of fossil fuels.

Under the statutes, DOT has to prescribe standards, commonly known as corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE standards, at least 18 months prior to the first model year to which the standards apply. The standards must maximize fuel economy within the limits of what is technically feasible.

The 2012 rule

In April 2012, under the Obama administration, DOT and the Environmental Protection Agency jointly issued standards for light vehicles for model years 2017 and beyond. Because the statutes do not allow DOT to set standards for more than five model years at a time, the new standards were only enforced for model years 2017 to 2021, with a second phase of standards, for model years 2022 to 2025 being proposed but not enforced. The 2012 regulations enforced light vehicle fleet-wide fuel consumption requirements in the range of 40.3 to 41.0 miles per gallon for model year 2021. The regulations proposed a standard of 48.7 to 49.7 miles per gallon in model year 2025.

According to DOT’s new notice, published in the Federal Register, in the 2012 rule the federal agencies had committed to a mid-term evaluation of the standards, given that the proposed standards for 2022 to 2025 had not been formally mandated. That evaluation was completed in November 2016, with EPA issuing a final determination in January.


A few days after Trump’s March statement EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced a reconsideration of the January final determination for model years 2022 to 2025. The newly announced EIS comes as part of that redetermination. Trump characterized his March order as part of his policy of stimulating U.S. industry by reducing “industry-killing” regulation.

At this stage the agencies are accepting comments on the scope of the EIS for the reconsideration. The agencies say that, as in previous CAFE standards, they anticipate specifying fuel consumption limits in relationship to the footprints of vehicles: A vehicle’s footprint consists of the product of its wheelbase and track width - the larger the footprint, the higher the likely fuel consumption.

Several alternatives

DOT says that in its draft EIS the agency is considering several alternatives, including an indefinite continuation of the CAFE standards set for 2021. Other options will include ranges of possibilities for the upper and lower bounds for fuel consumption. An analysis of the alternatives will consider several parameters, including the environmental impacts of fuel usage and the cost to manufacturers and consumers of stringent standards, DOT’s Federal Register notice says. The environmental evaluation will consider impacts of vehicle emissions on air quality, including impacts on carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and on climate change, the document says.

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