On March 31, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA” and, collectively, the “Agencies”) released the pre-publication version of the final part to their joint Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (“SAFE”) Vehicles Rule. The new rule amends EPA’s greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger vehicles, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles in model years 2021 and onward, and it simultaneously amends or creates NHTSA’s corporate average fuel economy standards for similar vehicles in model years (MY) 2021-2026. Under these harmonized regulations, each new model year will bring a 1.5% increase in stringency through MY 2026. Though a significant lessening of requirements from joint standards last set in 2012, this “steady ramp rate” is a notable change from the proposed version of the SAFE Vehicles Rule, which sought to maintain requirements as they applied in MY 2020. The new rule will take effect sixty days from its publication in the Federal Register.
The joint rule announced on Tuesday is, in fact, the second aspect of the proposed SAFE Vehicles Rule to be released. In September of 2019, the Agencies finalized independent proposals preempting state and local greenhouse gas standards, as well as zero-emission vehicle (“ZEV”) mandates, while also withdrawing California’s special waiver under the Clean Air Act to set its such requirements. Litigation over that “part one” of the SAFE Vehicles Rule is ongoing at both the trial and appellate levels, and litigation might soon arise over the new technical standards as well. The completion of the SAFE Vehicles Rule also arrives as dormant litigation over the Agencies’ “Phase II” greenhouse gas standards for heavy-duty vehicles has returned to merits briefing after a long pause. We will update you as further developments arise. In the meantime, do not hesitate to contact Houston Shaner or Mack McGuffey.