EPA's New, Higher Emissions Standards Will Mean a 40-MPG Fleet Average in 2026

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized new emissions standards on Monday, December 20, that will go into effect with the 2023 model year and run through model year 2026. The EPA will set other standards for 2027 and later vehicles.
  • The EPA said these stricter greenhouse gas emissions rules will provide $190 billion in net benefits to Americans, including lowering the price it costs to drive and creating health benefits from a cleaner environment.
  • There's general agreement that these are the strictest fuel-economy standards ever proposed, even higher than what President Obama asked for before President Trump rolled those rules back.

    Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its new rules for what it is calling the "most ambitious federal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks ever." The new standards, which will go into effect for model year 2023 through 2026 vehicles, are a precursor to the next set of standards, which will affect 2027 model year and later vehicles.

    While the EPA technically sets tailpipe emissions limits, not fuel-economy standards (those are set by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA), these new regulations will of course impact the miles-per-gallon ratings of new cars and trucks. The new rules will mean that the fleet average will climb to around 40 mpg in 2026, compared to the 38-mpg average that appeared in earlier proposals. The most recent was from this past August, when the Biden administration said it would work to roll back Trump-era rules that loosened the emissions standards and would have resulted in more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and a fleet average of just 32 mpg. The new rules are even more stringent than those proposed by President Obama and are expected to prevent 3.1 billion tons of CO2 emissions from getting into the air through 2050.

    "Collectively, these standards are the strongest vehicle emission standards ever established for the passenger vehicle sector in the U.S.," the pro-environment Climate Group said in a statement in response to today's EPA's announcement.

    NHTSA said in August 
    that it would propose higher mpg requirements that would increase fuel efficiency by 8 percent a year for model years 2024 through 2026, resulting in an increase in the fleetwide average of 12 miles per gallon for model year 2026 vehicles, using model year 2021 as a baseline.

    The EPA isn't only highlighting these improved fuel economy numbers, though. Instead the agency is talking about how lower GHG emissions will result in $190 billion in "net benefits" for Americans by reducing the amount of pollution in the air, improving public health and reducing the amount people have to spend on gasoline and diesel fuel by making their cars go further on each gallon. The new rules also deliver "more net benefits to consumers than the proposed rule showcasing how zero-emission vehicles are more affordable and more efficient for consumers," the EPA said.

    2020 ford f 150 raptor
    2022 chevrolet silverado 1500 high country

    The EPA's new, higher standards don't mean automakers can't build low-mpg vehicles, so gas-guzzling models like the Ford F-150 Raptor and the Chevrolet Silverado, which can drop as low as a measly 15 combined mpg in some configurations, can remain a part of Ford and GM's plans. The trick is that the average needs to increase, which gives automakers more reason to offer high-mpg models and all-electric vehicles as well as models that get some of the EPA's highest ratings, like the 2022 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Blue (54 mpg) and the 2022 Toyota Corolla Hybrid (52 mpg).

    2022 hyundai elantra hybrid
    2022 toyota corolla hybrid

    The new rules could push new electric-vehicle and plug-in-hybrid sales to make up 17 percent of the U.S. market by 2026, the EPA said, adding that the new rules give automakers "adequate lead time for manufacturers to comply at reasonable costs." The rules themselves, the EPA declares, are "based on sound science and grounded in a rigorous assessment of current and future technologies with supporting analysis that shows the standards are achievable and affordable."

    Outside groups pressured the Biden administration to enact the higher GHG standards that were announced today. The Sierra Club said more than 200,000 people submitted comments to the EPA to strengthen the rules in September. Attorneys general from 21 states, the District of Columbia, and six cities also recommended to the EPA that it strengthen the rules.

    "We applaud the EPA for listening to the public and the climate science and acting swiftly to strengthen the federal clean car standards, our nation's most powerful tool to slash emissions," said Sierra Club president Ramón Cruz in a statement. "We urge the agency to get moving on the strongest possible long-term standards that rapidly accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles to protect the well-being of our communities by addressing the nation's top source of pollution."