Air Technical Advisory Committee
Discussion Paper on
National Low Emission Vehicle Program (NLEV)
What is NLEV? NLEV is a voluntary national low emission vehicle program for light-duty
vehicles and light-duty trucks. Once automakers and states opt in and the program is found “to be
in effect” it would be enforced by EPA outside of California. Manufacturers certify new vehicles
to one of five emissions categories. Manufacturers must also comply with an overall fleet average
standard for non-methane organic gases. (See additional materials for standards.)
Why? Additional measures will be necessary from a wide geographic region in order to ensure
Pennsylvania and other Northeastern states attain and maintain the national ambient air quality
standard for ozone. Governor Ridge is urging national uniform controls for large power plant and
industrial boilers to help reduce air pollution coming across Pennsylvania’s borders. NLEV would
be a comparable measure for highway vehicles.
Despite reductions, emissions from light-duty highway vehicles remain significant contributors to
the widespread ozone problem. In the first decade of the next century, the decreases in highway
emissions realized from the phase-in of cleaner vehicles could be overtaken by the increasing
vehicle miles traveled, unless there are improvements in the vehicles themselves. The Southeastern
Ozone Stakeholders included in their recommendations measures both to help reduce VMT and to
encourage the phase-in of cleaner vehicles.
What could states do to regulate emissions from vehicles? Sec. 209 of the Clean Air Act
reserves establishment of new vehicle emission standards to EPA and California (through a specific
waiver of federal preemption). The Act also precludes EPA from adopting more stringent federal
emission standards (“Tier II”) sooner than the 2004 model year.
California adopted a low emission vehicle (LEV) program in 1990, including a percentage sales
mandate for zero emission vehicles (ZEV). Sec. 177 of the Act allows other states to adopt
emission standards more stringent than federal standards if they are identical to California’s.
(However, states need not adopt California fuels or electric vehicle mandates.) They must be
identical to avoid creating a “third car” prohibited by Sec. 177 because this would place an additional design burden on the automobile manufacturers. States must also give the automakers
at least two years notice between adoption and affected model year.
What have states done? New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and
Vermont have adopted all or portions of California’s LEV program. New York and Massachusetts
are currently operating their programs which have been upheld by the courts as meeting the
requirements of Sec. 177.
In 1991, the Ozone Transport Commission began looking at region-wide adoption of LEV
programs to meet the need for additional control measures to attain the ozone standard. EPA
accepted a February 1994 OTC petition in February 1995, requiring states to adopt “OTC-LEV” -
- California emission standards without requirements for fuels or ZEV sales percentage mandates. To do so, EPA had to find that additional emission reductions were needed in the Northeast for
attainment and maintenance. In March 1997, the US Court of Appeals (DC Circuit) overturned
the ability of EPA to require LEV programs of states in SIP revisions and ruled that EPA is
prevented from mandating that states adopt motor vehicle emission standards even if they are
identical to California’s. The decision maintains the ability of states to voluntarily adopt such programs and the documented need for emission reductions throughout the OTC states (and
A national alternative. Faced with the prospect of many separate state programs, the automobile
industry made a counteroffer -- a National LEV program -- even before the OTC approved its
petitions. Negotiations between OTC states and the automakers to flesh out the program and its
“opt-in” enforcement mechanism continued from mid-1993 to mid-1996. As a result, EPA
published an NLEV rule on May 7, 1997 which describes the program and provides an opt-in
mechanism for automakers. All listed automakers must opt in for the program to be in effect. The opt-in process for states has not yet been finalized.
Pennsylvania has supported the NLEV program. NLEV would be less expensive for the industry
and therefore for consumers because it spreads costs over a large vehicle population and because the fleet averages and warranty provisions are less stringent than a California program. The
certified tailpipe standards for four levels of vehicles would be the same as California’s.
NLEV has three distinct advantages for Pennsylvania over a state or even OTC-wide LEV
? as a national program, it does not cause economic inequities among states, particularly
between PA and states west of us. New vehicles migrating into and traveling through PA
would be as clean as PA vehicles, starting with the 2001 model year. Costs to consumers
would be lower.
? because it is a voluntary opt-in program, NLEV would take effect sooner than either the 2004
model year envisioned in Tier II and/or the two year notice required under Sec. 177. ? potential emission reductions are probably greater because of the first two factors.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Ozone Stakeholders recommended participation in the NLEV
program and if necessary, a state LEV program, to obtain additional reductions from highway
vehicles. NLEV was one of the most cost-effective measure of those recommended.
NLEV has been under negotiation for almost four years. The primary obstacle to NLEV is
continuing insistence on the part of the automobile manufacturers that all states, including NY and MA with Sec. 177 programs already in operation, allow NLEV to be a fully acceptable compliance
alternative to these state LEV programs. (The right of NY and MA to adopt ZEV mandates also
continues to be litigated.) Pennsylvania and the other OTC states continue to support the ability of states to adopt Sec. 177 programs if they so choose. Although all parties remain hopeful that this unique cooperative program for cleaner vehicles will be implemented, the existence of NLEV is
not guaranteed. Its start date is also unclear.
Pennsylvania’s action. DEP is developing a rule which establishes NLEV as a fully acceptable
compliance alternative to a state LEV program. This rulemaking will provide the mechanism by
which Pennsylvania would opt into the NLEV program. This rule will also send a message that Pennsylvania believes emission reductions from highway vehicles are necessary on a national, uniform basis and that we are serious about contributing our fair share to emissions reductions in the Ozone Transport Assessment Group region.
Although all parties remain hopeful that this unique cooperative program for cleaner vehicles will be implemented, the existence of NLEV is not guaranteed. If the NLEV program does not “come into effect”, the proposed Pennsylvania regulation would allow DEP to implement a state LEV program about two years after rule adoption. This “backstop” program was recommended by the Southeast Pennsylvania Ozone
Stakeholders. Should automakers later opt out of NLEV, the backstop clean vehicles program ensures cleaner cars would continue to be available in Pennsylvania. Finally, at the end of the voluntary NLEV program (in the middle of the next decade), if EPA has not adopted cleaner federal standards, the backstop program would keep emissions from new cars at the lower levels.
DEP’s proposed backstop clean vehicles program includes adoption by reference
of emission standards and related implementation provisions from the California Code of Regulations. This is because Pennsylvania is precluded by the Clean Air Act from fashioning its own clean vehicle standards. Should the backstop program be necessary, fuels would not be affected since Sec. 5(a)(7) of the Air Pollution Control Act and section 2 of Act 166 of 1992 prohibits sale or use of California fuels in Pennsylvania. (The courts have ruled that states need not adopt California fuels to have an identical LEV program.) A percentage sales mandate for ZEVs is not planned.
What additional actions should the Commonwealth take now to reduce emissions from new highway vehicles in order to attain and maintain the ozone standard?
What are the impacts of the rulemaking presented for discussion, which includes: ? establishment of NLEV as a fully acceptable alternative to LEV ? adoption of a LEV program which would serve as a backstop if NLEV is not in effect
Proposed Regulatory Schedule
July 1997 AWQTAC review of proposal
Sep. 1997 EQB consideration of proposal
Nov.-Dec. 1997 Public comment and hearings
early 1998 AWQTAC consideration of final rule
mid 1998 EQB consideration of final rule
mid 1998 Final PA rule adopted - start
mid 2000 If no NLEV, effective date of LEV program: perhaps some model
year 2001 vehicles affected, practical start model year 2002
Informal Clean Vehicle Glossary
Programs for clean vehicles:
Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) program: A program establishing emission standards and a fleet
average requirement. California is the only state with the legal ability to set its own new vehicle
standards and did so in 1991. Sec. 177 of the federal Clean Air Act allows states to adopt
California emission standards.
California LEV program: Includes emission standards for a number of different levels described below, plus a separate 10 percent sales mandate for ZEVs in model year 2003.
OTC LEV program: In EPA’s rulemaking of January 24, 1995, a program to be adopted
throughout the OTR including the California emission standards, a fleet average provision which
started in the 1999 model year, no “California” reformulated gasoline, with ZEV mandates a state
option. The requirement for OTC states to promulgate such a program was recently invalidated by
the US Court of Appeals (DC Circuit).
National LEV (NLEV): Originally called “Fed-LEV” and then the “49-state car” program. A
counteroffer from the automakers to sell clean vehicles across the US outside California.
Clean Fuel Fleet program: Mandated by Clean Air Act for areas classified as serious and above for ozone -- therefore, for the 5-county Philadelphia area in Pennsylvania. Unlike LEV programs,
this is a fleet operator mandate, requiring a certain percentage of new vehicles purchased by
centrally-fueled fleets to meet clean fuel fleet standards (similar to but not identical to LEV
Emission standards for light-duty cars and trucks:
Tier I car: National standards for light-duty vehicles which were phased in starting with 1994
Tier II car: The Clean Air Act’s pending emission standards for light-duty vehicles which could
be implemented no earlier than the 2004 model year.
Transitional LEV (TLEV): Cleaner than the Tier I car, but not as clean as a LEV.
Low Emission Vehicle (LEV): A car that meets specific tailpipe standards for NOx, non-methane organic gases (NMOG) and CO, significantly cleaner for NMOG and NOx than the
typical car sold here in the Northeast. Considered to be the LEV program workhorse gasoline-
powered vehicle for the next couple of decades.
Ultra LEV (ULEV): Even cleaner than a LEV for NMOG. Vehicles powered by natural gas can
often be certified to ULEV standards. At least one gasoline-powered vehicle has been certified as
Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV): Battery-powered electric cars and other technologies which produce no emissions at the point of use.
Backstop: A mechanism by which a state would adopt a state-enforced LEV program in
anticipation of NLEV in case (1) there is a delay in NLEV implementation (2) NLEV does not
come into effect (3) NLEV comes into effect but then is determined to be no longer in effect and/or
(4) there would be a gap between the end of NLEV and the beginning of Tier II standards.
CARB: California Air Resources Board
Third car: A vehicle program that has emission standards different from the federal or California
standards, prohibited by the Clean Air Act.