EPA sets fuel efficiency hearing

David Shepardson | Detroit News

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to move quickly to consider a request by California and 13 states to impose a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2016 — a measure that would require automakers to dramatically boost the efficiency of light trucks and passenger cars.

The EPA has set a public hearing on the issue on March 5 and will take public comments through April 6.

The hearing comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s decision last month to order the EPA to reconsider the Bush Administration’s decision to deny California and the other states a waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement new standards.

In a Friday notice about the public hearing, the EPA repudiated its prior denial saying it “significantly departed from EPA’s longstanding interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s waiver provisions and from the agency’s history.”

California had been granted more than 50 waivers over the past 30 years and never received a complete denial. California’s waiver would require automakers to boost fuel economy to a fleetwide 35.7 miles per gallon by 2016 and 42.5 mpg by 2020.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the agency would conduct an “impartial review” of California’s request.`

“It is imperative that we get this decision right, and base it on the best available science and a thorough understanding of the law,” Jackson said.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said that if the states get EPA approval, they would immediately put their requirements into effect with no changes in the ramp up until 2016.

The standards — drafted in 2004 — were supposed to begin with the 2009 model year.

“Nothing I saw changed the views that I had before is that there’s a lot of great technology that we need to bring on,” Nichols said in an interview this week after touring the Washington Auto Show.

The EPA said the agency is specifically seeking comment on automaker lead time.

California has said its requirements would reduce auto sales by 4.7 percent by 2020 because complying with the new standards would increase the average cost of vehicles. “Our standards are not the problem. Our standards are part of the solution if we do it right,” Nichols said.

Sue Cischke, Ford Motor Co.’ group vice president for sustainability, environment and safety, said the automaker would face significant hurdles in complying.

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