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Light-Duty Motor Vehicles

Light-duty motor vehicles - passenger cars, sport utility vehicles, and pick-up trucks - emit one third of the region's ozone forming pollution and a substantial fraction of toxic air pollution in the Northeast. Since their inception in the 1960s, emission standards for automobiles were developed by the federal government and implemented on a national basis. Consequently, tailpipe control programs have tended to represent a "one size fits all" compromise that has failed to achieve the pollution reductions needed in densely populated, heavily polluted areas, such as the Northeast. Historically, the one exception to this rule has been California, which is authorized by Congress to set its own emission standards for cars and trucks. In the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments, Congress gave other states the authority to adopt California’s stricter automobile emission standards in lieu of federal standards. NESCAUM has been working with the Northeast states to use this and other opportunities to push for continued progress in reducing motor vehicle pollution.

In the mid-1980s, the Northeast states concluded that their air quality objectives could not be achieved without deep cuts in emissions from cars. In 1987 NESCAUM conducted a study that recommended adoption of California's more stringent emission standards for passenger cars and trucks. Follow-up studies on the federal and California programs were conducted by NESCAUM in the late-1980s and early 1990s. In the early 1990's the Northeast states joined with California in pursuit of regional strategies to lower emissions through the use of cleaner burning gasoline and the adoption of California’s motor vehicle emissions program. These initiatives set a dynamic in motion that has greatly improved air quality in the Northeast and accelerated the development of advanced vehicle technologies.

The adoption of LEV by states in the Northeast, combined with the auto industry’s concern over a "patchwork" of different emission standards throughout the country, led to a decision by automakers to voluntarily produce LEVs for the national market. Most states in the Northeast accepted this compromise. New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine decided to retain their California-based programs. Recently, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have joined New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine in adopting the LEV program. These programs include critical technology-forcing components not offered by the national program.

California recently adopted standards for passenger car and light-duty truck greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; these standards will apply in the Northeast states that have adopted the California program beginning in 2009. Due to the continued commitment of the NESCAUM states, the Northeast will remain on the cutting edge of clean vehicle technology into the next millennium.

NESCAUM Low Emission Vehicle Reports and Papers:

Early NESCAUM Light-Duty Vehicle Reports (not available electronically):

  • Impact of Battery-Powered Electric Vehicles on Air Quality in the Northeast States, 1992
  • Adopting the California Low Emission Vehicle Program in the Northeast States - An Evaluation, 1991
  • An Evaluation of Adopting the California Mobile Source Control Program in the Eight Northeast States, 1989
  • Critical Analysis of the Federal Motor Vehicle Control Program, 1988

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