Vehicle Emissions Standards

Rules that set an upper limit for how much any given vehicle can emit must be designed in a way that reflects reality. The vehicles of the future will not be solely electric, nor will they be all fossil-fuel vehicles—they will feature a mix of both, and regulations must aim to maximize carbon reductions from all vehicle types. Increasing the use of biofuels like bioethanol is a reliable way to lower emissions from the internal combustion engine vehicles that will continue to be on the road for decades to come; policymakers must acknowledge this and structure vehicle emissions standards to increase the use of lower-carbon biofuels, rather than place their thumb on the scale in favor of only one vehicle technology.

Light-duty vehicle emissions standards should incentivize the use of more biofuels rather than place their thumb on the scale of one particular vehicle technology.

The Asks

  • EPA should update its 2027-2032 vehicle GHG standards to provide a pathway for bioethanol blended fuels to play a greater role in reducing carbon emissions from light-duty vehicles.
  • Policymakers should increase octane content in vehicle fuel, helping automakers to make engines more efficient and encouraging higher-level ethanol blends.
  • Congress should
    • approve the Flex Fuel Fairness Act, which would allow automakers to earn credit toward EPA tailpipe standards by manufacturing Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFVs), which are designed to operate on cleaner ethanol blends, ranging from E10 (10% ethanol) to E85 (51-83% ethanol).
    • approve the Next Generation Fuels Act, which would phase in higher octane levels at the nation’s fuel pumps by increasing the use of bioethanol.

What Are Vehicle Emissions Standards?

Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for issuing standards that set an upper limit for the amount of emissions that can come from vehicles. In April 2023, EPA proposed new standards governing emissions from light-duty vehicles for the 2027-2032 model years. Unfortunately, the proposal risks leaving millions of tons of carbon reductions on the table by disregarding innovative strategies for decarbonizing transportation with clean, affordable biofuels.

How Do Vehicle Emissions Standards Affect Biofuels and the Bioeconomy?

By not making room for biofuels in its proposal, EPA’s tailpipe emissions standards threaten to limit the use of liquid biofuels and undermine growth in the bioeconomy at large.

  • First, EPA’s proposal is unnecessarily narrow, presenting a false choice between only two paths forward – fossil-fuel-only vehicles or mass adoption of electric vehicles. Neither outcome reflects reality, and EPA’s framework ignores the proven, available, and American-made solution of emissions-reducing biofuel.
  • Internal combustion engine vehicles will be on the road for decades to come, and we will need liquid fuels to power them. The more oil we displace in those fuels with bio-based alternatives, the greater the environmental benefit. Instead of placing its thumb on the scale for a single technology, EPA’s final standards must reflect the entire lifecycle analysis of all technologies. Doing anything less undermines American ingenuity and innovation in the bioeconomy, while leaving carbon emissions reductions on the table

What Impact Would Growth Energy’s Policy Priorities Have on Consumers, the Economy, or the Environment?

  • By revising its proposed standards to include a role for biofuels, EPA could help the country realize emissions reductions from its existing vehicle fleet, rather than relying on an implausibly rapid adoption of electric vehicles at some point in the future.
  • A nod to the growing emissions-reducing power of American biofuels would signal to the industry that EPA understands its value in a way that could stimulate investment growth and technological innovation from biorefineries.