EPA’s final vehicle emissions rule fails to address biofuels

By Erin Voegele | December 20, 2021

The U.S. EPA on Dec. 20 issued a final rule setting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for model year (MY) 2023-2026 passenger cars and light trucks. Despite calls from the renewable fuels industry and several policy makers, the rule does not address biofuels or set a high-octane fuel standard.

“It appears EPA has again failed to recognize that the fuels we put into our engines can have as much—or more—impact on fuel economy and GHG emissions as the engine technologies themselves,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “EPA had the opportunity to use this rulemaking as a tool for moving toward the adoption of high-octane, low-carbon (HOLC) liquid fuels, but chose not to open the toolbox. Research has proven that HOLC fuels can significantly improve fuel economy and reduce emissions from the light-duty vehicle fleet, while also reducing the harmful tailpipe pollution linked to heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses. While this regulation is a missed opportunity, we will not give up on promoting an orderly transition to a higher octane fuels (98-100 RON) for all new internal combustion vehicles, establishing parity and consistency in the regulation of fuel volatility for ethanol and gasoline blends, and leveling the playing field for GHG emissions credit generation for all alternative fuel vehicles, including flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs).”

The final rule sets the MY 2026 fleet-wide CO2 emissions standards at 161 grams per mile, equivalent to 55 miles per gallon (mpg). The EPA’s estimated real world label value of the standard is 40 mpg. By MY 2026, the EPA projects that the final standards can be met with sales of about 17 percent electric vehicles (EVs), and wider uptake of advanced gasoline engine and vehicle technologies available today.

As part of its announcement, the EPA announced plans to initiate a separate rulemaking to establish multi-pollutant emission standards for MY 2027 and later that will aim to speed the transition of the light-duty vehicle fleet toward a zero-emissions future.

The new emissions standards issued on Dec. 20 revise the  SAFE Vehicles Rule finalized by the Trump administration in March 2020. That rule replaced CAFE and GHG emissions standards put in place by the Obama administration. President Biden directed the EPA and DOE’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to revise the existing CAFE and GHG emission standards through an executive order issued in January 2021. 

The EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation on Aug. 5 released a proposed rule to set light-duty vehicle GHG emissions standards through 2026. Despite calls by the Governors Biofuels’ Coalition, members of the High Octane Low Carbon Alliance, and nearly two dozen ag and biofuels groups, the proposed rule did not address octane or the potential for biobased fuels to reduce GHG emissions.

During a public comment period, the American Coalition for Ethanol, Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and other biofuels stakeholders urged the EPA and DOT to revise the proposed rule to address GHG reductions made possible through the use of high-octane, low-carbon renewable fuels.

Additional information, including a full copy of the final rule, is available on the EPA website.