RL33413 - Automobile and Light Truck Fuel Economy: The CAFE Standards
7-May-2008; Brent D. Yacobucci and Robert Bamberger; 18 p.
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Abstract: High crude oil and gasoline prices and wider concerns over greenhouse gas emissions and climate change have contributed to interest in reducing fossil fuel consumption. This has renewed focus on U.S. gasoline consumption in the transportation sector and federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. CAFE standards are fleetwide fuel economy averages that manufacturers must meet each model year. Currently, separate CAFE standards are established for passenger cars and light trucks (which include SUVs, vans, and pickups).
Legislation passed by the Senate on June 21, 2007, H.R. 6 (65-27), includes provisions that would combine the passenger car and light truck fleet in model year (MY) 2011 in determining compliance with a CAFE standard, and would establish a CAFE target of 35 miles per gallon (mpg) for the combined fleet by MY2020. On August 3, 2007, the House passed energy legislation — H.R. 3221 (241-170) and H.R. 2776 (221-189) — but these bills did not include CAFE provisions, nor were any CAFE amendments brought to and debated on the House floor.
An effort to add CAFE language to House energy legislation was defeated on June 28th in a House Committee on Energy and Commerce markup (26-31). In support of the amendment, some argued that it would strengthen House negotiations with the Senate in conference if the House bill included CAFE provisions. Two CAFE proposals (H.R. 1506, H.R. 2927) were circulated as possible amendments that might reach the House floor. H.R. 1506 would require an average fuel economy of 35 mpg across the entire fleet of passenger automobiles and light-duty trucks by MY2018. H.R. 2927 would require an average fuel economy not less than 32 mpg and not more than 35 mpg in MY2022. This bill, however, would not combine the passenger car and light-duty truck fleets. H.R. 2927 would also require that the CAFE standard be expressed in grams per mile of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Under current law, States are pre-empted from establishing their own CAFE standards but are permitted to set clean air requirements. This has generated controversy, and some believe the new requirement in H.R. 2927 to report fuel economy as a function of CO2 emissions is intended to have some bearing on the differing treatment of the states between CAFE and emissions standards. Discussions among the House leadership and members prior to the energy debate led to agreement that neither amendment would be offered during the floor debate. CAFE is likely to be addressed in conference — should one be called.
To date, the Secretary of Transportation has had more latitude in setting CAFE standards for light-duty trucks than for passenger cars. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) of 1975 grants the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the authority to alter the light truck program’s structure, but the passenger car program is set by EPCA. On April 6, 2006, NHTSA released a final rulemaking for sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and light-duty trucks beginning with MY2008 that allows standards for light trucks to be set based upon vehicle size, as opposed to having one average standard for all light trucks. Both H.R. 1506 and H.R. 2927 would authorize attribute-based standards; H.R. 6 requires them.