Earth Matters: Call for car controls

Earth Matters: Call for car controls

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger cars and light trucks. Just last month, EPA proposed changes to the existing emission standards. According to the EPA, the changes will produce significant reductions in GHG emissions and in other pollutants.

These reductions will have notable public health and welfare benefits and cost savings at the gas pump.

Greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles are produced by burning fossil fuels in the form of gasoline. Emissions from motor vehicles contribute 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

These emissions are trapped in the atmosphere and have a warming effect on Earth. This warming effect contributes to climate change. The consequences of climate change include heat waves, drought, sea-level rise, extreme climate and weather events, coastal flooding, and wildfires.

We are at a critical point in terms of climate change. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is key to addressing a global rise in temperature that is having catastrophic effects on people worldwide. If we hope to hold the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This can only be done by converting all new cars sales to electric by 2035, according to the International Energy Agency.

EPA’s proposed changes to emission standards will apply to all passenger cars and light trucks manufactured through model year 2026 and beginning with model year 2023. Specifically, the new standards increase the emissions standard stringency by 10% in the first year and by 5% in each subsequent model year. This strengthens the previous administration’s proposal to only increase the stringency of the standards by 1.5% each model year.

In terms we can all understand, the stringency increase can be expressed as a miles per gallon (MPG) increase. For example, the proposed standard increases the MPG to 52.0 mpg from the existing standard of 43.3 mpg.

A consumer will see a change in the fuel economy label on a vehicle from 32.2 mpg to 38.2 mpg. The larger number set in the standards accounts for GHG emission reduction benefits from improved air conditioning.

According to EPA’s analysis, the proposed standards will eliminate 2.2. billion tons of GHG emissions, or roughly the equivalent of all GHG emissions from petroleum combustion in the United States in 2019.

The cost to manufacturers of the new standards is estimated to be $1,000 per vehicle in model year 2026. The financial benefit of this investment would be between $86 and $140 billion saved in public health (costs related to premature death, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, nonfatal heart attacks, asthma, and decreased lung function), fuel savings, and property damage and agricultural production impacts due to climate change.

Consumers should save nearly $2,000 in fuel costs, far exceeding the increased vehicle cost due to the proposed standards.

Current technologies are widely viewed as sufficient to meet these standards. The expectation is that the proposed standards will also incentivize greater integration of electric engine and transmission technologies, bringing us closer to achieving the net-zero emissions goal by 2050.

While EPA is touting these standards as climate change responsive, others are not convinced. According to a number of groups, including Public Citizen, multiple officials in the Biden administration expressed disagreement with the proposed standards as being too lenient and not accomplishing enough to support President Biden’s climate agenda.

These standards are a unique opportunity to address climate change in a way that considers people’s health, finances, and the environment. Those advocating for stronger standards are not justifying them because they will benefit a plant or insect that maybe people have a hard time appreciating the value in doing so. Rather, these standards are directly impacting our individual and collective health.

Every day we breathe air polluted by gasoline-powered motor vehicle emissions. Every day thousands of tons of greenhouse gases are released into the air that are directly linked to human health hazards like droughts, floods, and heatwaves. Why would we hold back on setting the most stringent standards industry can achieve?

The public comment period to advocate for more stringent standards in the final rule closes Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. To submit a comment go to and search for Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2021-0208.

If the public comment period has closed, please contact your federal legislators and let them know you would like them to support more stringent emissions standards. And then exercise your financial power. When shopping for a new or used vehicle, make a point of seeking the most fuel-efficient option.

The car manufacturers are paying attention and if people demand fuel efficiency, that is what they will build. In the meantime, walk or ride a bike and do what you can to bring emissions down.

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