Press Release | April 1, 2010

EPA “Tailpipe” Rule Curbing Greenhouse Gases Offers Multiple Benefits for the South

Following a 2007 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation today jointly issued a final rule on curbing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from light-duty vehicles, which contribute about 17%* of America’s share of the world’s climate-change pollution. 

In addition to helping slow the impacts of climate change, the rule will also reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil, cut costs for American consumers, and reduce other pollutants that have a more immediate impact on public health and the environment, including nitrogen oxides which form ozone, and sulfur dioxide which form soot particles. Both ozone and particle pollution are known factors in the growing rates of heart and lung disease.

Following is a statement from SELC Senior Attorney Trip Pollard, who served on the Virginia Climate Change Commission in 2008:
“Today the federal government has taken historic action to cut pollution from our cars and trucks, one of the largest sources of dirty air. The changes under this rule will bring multiple benefits – to our wallets and our health, the environment, and national security.”

In Virginia, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has publicly stated he plans to challenge this forward-looking rule. The attorney general has already challenged the EPA’s “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health and the environment, and upon which the agency based today’s rule. SELC filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Wetlands Watch in Cuccinelli’s lawsuit to help defend the EPA’s endangerment finding, and said today it will take a serious look at Cuccinelli’s potential challenge of the tailpipe rule and possibly seek to intervene in that action as well.

“It’s troubling that the state attorney general would seek to thwart this progress,” said Pollard.

According to the EPA, the program will increase fuel economy of all passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles to 35.5 miles per gallon by model year 2016, saving the average car buyer more than $3,000 in fuel costs. The program also means the U.S. will avoid burning some 1.8 billion barrels of oil, reducing our reliance on foreign sources of oil, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 960 million metric tons- roughly the same as removing 50 million cars from the road.

These benefits are especially important in the South, where some 20 million people live in areas that fail to meet health-based air pollution standards, due in large part to tailpipe pollution.  In addition, Southerners have some of the longest drive times in the country, so increasing fuel efficiency will save money at the gas pump for consumers.  It would also reduce America’s demand for oil, demonstrating that there are better ways to meet our energy needs than risky efforts that promise little return, such as the expansion of offshore drilling into undeveloped areas off the U.S. coast announced by the White House yesterday.

Taking positive steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will also help protect the South’s coastline, which is extremely vulnerable to potential sea-level rise due to a warming planet over time.  EPA has determined that storm surges and flooding in coastal areas from sea level rise are among the most serious potential adverse effects of climate change in the U.S., and that up to 21% of the remaining coastal wetlands in the mid-Atlantic are at risk of inundation by 2100.

Today’s rule is the outcome of a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which then triggered the agency’s assessment of whether mobile source greenhouse gases endanger the public and the environment. In December, the EPA issued a final finding that: “The evidence points ineluctably to the conclusion that climate change is upon us as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, that climatic changes are already occurring that harm our health and welfare, and that the effects will only worsen over time in the absence of regulatory action. The effects of climate change on public health include sickness and death.”  That “endangerment finding” forms the basis for the rule announced today.

*Corrected on 4/5/10 from the previous version which said “about one-fourth.” The vehicles covered by the endangerment finding accout for roughly 24% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, while the “tailpipe” rule finalized on 4/1/10 applies to a subset of those vehicles accounting for roughly 17% of U.S. emissions.

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Press Contacts

Trip Pollard

Senior Attorney and Leader of the Land and Community Program

Phone: 804-343-1090