Deciphering the SAFE Rule

When the agencies say x, they mean y

I’m one of many environmental lawyers this morning poring over the just-released final rule rolling back federal fuel economy and climate emission standards for cars.  I’m finding it helpful to create a key, of sorts, to the Orwellian language I’m encountering.  Here you go!  Happy reading, everyone.


What it says


What it means


“The final standards will [] result[] in energy conservation that helps address environmental concerns, including criteria pollutant, air toxic pollutant, and carbon emissions.”


The final standard will result in less energy-efficient cars that exacerbate environmental concerns, worsening criteria pollutants, air toxic pollutants, and carbon emissions.


“These standards will become more stringent for each model year from 2021 to 2026, relative to the MY 2020 standards.”


These standards will become less stringent for each model year from 2021 to 2026, relative to existing law.


“Both agencies recognize that they are balancing the relevant considerations in somewhat different ways from how they may have been balanced previously.”


Hold on for the ride, we’re doing an analytical u-turn from our last, well-reasoned cars rule.


“More stringent standards also have the potential for overly aggressive penetration rates for advanced technologies relative to the penetration rates seen in the final standards.”


The oil companies are freaking out about EV adoption rates.  We have to step in!


“These final standards are estimated to result in 1.9 to 2.0 additional billion barrels of fuel consumed and from 867 to 923 additional million metric tons of CO2 as compared to current estimates of what the standards set forth in 2012 would require.”


You’re welcome, fossil fuel lobby.


“EPA is also establishing a credit multiplier for natural gas vehicles through the 2026 model year.”


You’re welcome, fossil fuel lobby.


“NHTSA and EPA are legally obligated to set CAFE and GHG standards, respectively, and do not have the authority to decline to regulate.”


This is literally the least we can do.  Maybe not even enough; we’ll see when California et al. sues us.


“Despite these potential analytical shortcomings, the agencies reaffirm that today’s analysis represents the most complete and rigorous examination of CAFE and CO2 emission standards to date, and provide decision-makers a powerful analytical tool—especially since the limitations are known, do not bias the central analysis’ results, and are afforded due consideration.”


Dear God I hope the arbitrary and capricious standard saves us.


“Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule”


“Worsening Oil Reliance and Smog Everywhere (WORSE) Vehicles Rule”


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Reader Comments

2 Replies to “Deciphering the SAFE Rule”

  1. Thanks for the translation! Hoping a “no u-turn” rule is a correlary to the arbitrary and capricious rule.

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About Cara

Cara Horowitz is the co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law. The Emmett Institute was founded as the f…

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