How to Make Sense of Clean Car Standards

Feb 9, 2023 | Blog |

Rabbi Simone Schicker of Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo, MI charges an electric vehicle

by Ileagh MacIvers

Here at Interfaith Power & Light, we believe that building a multifaceted, clean transportation system is a critical factor towards combating the climate crisis. Transportation emissions currently account for a plurality of climate change-causing carbon pollution in the US. One of our best tools to address tailpipe pollution and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles is national and state-level administrative regulations. Unfortunately, all of these rules and regulations can be confusing. This blog post will help you understand the history, structure, and key goals of clean car standards across the country.

Three agencies across the country work together to establish federal and state vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), California sought a special waiver from the EPA to set their own, more stringent emissions standards, as the state had already established standards beginning in 1966 to address its critical smog problem. Other states across the country must at least follow the national standards, but can also choose to adopt the more stringent CARB regulations.

There are two categories of federal standards: corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards (established by NHTSA) and greenhouse gas emissions standards (established by EPA). In 2010, the EPA and NHTSA coordinated these two sets of standards for the first time to establish the National Clean Car Standards program. This set of standards covered model years 2012 to 2025. At the same time, California established Advanced Clean Cars I (ACC I), a set of emissions standards that goes above and beyond national regulations and requires automakers to sell an increasing proportion of electric vehicles each year. ACC I has been adopted by eighteen states across the country, known as 177 states (after section 177 of the Clean Air Act). 

In August 2022, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted a new set of clean car standards, known as Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II), which will cover model years 2026 and beyond. ACC II will require all light-duty vehicles sold in California (and other states who adopt ACC II) to be 100% electric by 2035. A number of states have already adopted ACC II, including Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and Vermont. ACC II has two main components: the low emission vehicle (LEV) program and the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) program. The first LEV standards were adopted in 1990 and require automakers to produce gradually cleaner light- and medium-duty vehicles through emission controls. Types of pollutants covered by the LEV program include greenhouse gasses, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides. The ZEV program requires automakers to sell increasingly more zero-emission and partially zero-emission (plug-in hybrid) light-duty vehicles each year beginning in model year 2026. Sales requirements will begin that year at 35%, build to 68% in 2030, and reach 100% in 2035. In California alone, it is estimated that ACC II will “reduce emissions by approximately 69,900 tons of nitrous oxides (NOx) and 4,500 tons of particulate matter (PM2.5) from 2026 to 2040.”

On the other hand, there is also a critical need for heavy-duty vehicle regulations. Heavy-duty trucks and buses (classes 2b through 8, or more than 8,500 pounds) account for a disproportionate share of carbon pollution– they are responsible for 25% of total transportation sector carbon emissions, but only account for 4% of vehicles on the road. 45 million people in the US live, work, or attend school within 300 feet of a major road, airport or railroad, with the brunt of the pollution burden being borne by low-income communities and communities of color due to discriminatory land use and transportation policies. The first heavy-duty standards program was established by the EPA and NHTSA in 2011 and is known as Phase 1 standards; like the National Clean Cars Standards program, this program includes both fuel economy standards and emissions standards. In 2016, the program was updated with Phase 2 standards that cover model years 2018-2027. 

California also has a separate set of standards for heavy-duty vehicles as prescribed by the Clean Air Act, known as Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) and Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF). ACT requires manufacturers to produce zero-emission trucks beginning in 2024 and sets gradually increasing requirements that zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sales reach 55% of Class 2b – 3 truck sales, 75% of Class 4 – 8 straight truck sales, and 40% of truck tractor sales by 2035. ACF requires medium and heavy-duty fleets to purchase an increasing percentage of zero-emission trucks. ACT and ACF provide more flexibility through credits, trading, and other features than ACC II, namely because the development of electric heavy-duty vehicles is less advanced than that of light-duty passenger cars. In addition, ACT and ACF will help lower long-term costs for fleet operators and drive investment in zero-emission technologies and infrastructure, such as charging stations.

These regulations play a crucial role in protecting public health and our Shared Home. As people of faith, we have a special responsibility to advocate for these life-saving and climate-protecting technologies. We know that communities across the country are ready for bold, new transportation solutions, and clean EVs are an integral step towards addressing climate change for our communities, future generations, and our Sacred Earth. We need your support – read more about IPL’s work on national clean car standards here, and join our fight here.

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