Tougher Emissions Standards in Our Future?

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President Obama recently signed a memorandum requiring the U.S. EPA to reconsider an application by California  and at least 17 other states to set their own auto emissions and fuel efficiency standards.

All Those in Favor

Often stricter than required by federal law, these applications were previously denied. Those states who sought their own guidelines, which include New York and Florida, represent about 40 percent of the population, according to auto industry estimates.

Scrap vehicles and parts may become more of a concern as older cars cannot keep up with tougher emissions standards. - scrapcarslondon.com

Scrap vehicles and parts may become more of a concern as older cars cannot keep up with tougher emissions standards. - scrapcarslondon.com

In addition to potentially allowing states to regulate their own emissions standards, President Obama also directed his administration to move forward on tougher fuel-efficiency guidelines for the auto industry  to apply to 2011 model-year cars.

“For the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change. It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs,” Obama said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised Obama’s decisions. According to Schwarzenegger, “allowing California and other states to aggressively reduce their own harmful vehicle tailpipe emissions would be a historic win for clean air and for millions of Americans who want more fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly cars.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, passenger vehicles are estimated to emit 25 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

All Those Opposed

Automakers are not in favor of these potential changes, because they would have to spend billions of dollars to be in compliance with California’s standards. These rules are more rigorous than the federal guidelines passed in 2007, which require the national fleet average to be 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2020. The California standards would require an equivalent of 42 mpg within the same time frame.

Now, new guidelines will need to be in place by April of this year.

What It Means for You

These new rules (in today’s standards) make almost every car on the road, except for the Toyota Prius and Civic Hybrid, in non-compliance with potential fuel-efficiency standards. How automakers will help consumers comply, whether it be by retro-fitting older cars, developing new models, or a combination of both, has yet to be seen.

The potential to create millions of tons of auto waste in a relatively short period of time is a concern for these rulings. Each year, over 27 million cars reach the end of their usable lives (EOL). However, recycling rates are generally high, because they are made of highly reusable materials like steel and iron (for example, these materials comprise over 65 percent of auto bodies). In fact, more than 25 million tons of materials are recycled from vehicles each year, because automotive recyclers now can recover nearly 80 percent of the total materials by weight from a vehicle.

Current automotive-based recycling practices may need to be increased in the future, to keep up with the potential increase in waste parts and vehicles that regulatory changes may create.

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