Putting the Brakes on Global Warming: How the Clean Cars Program Will Reduce Global Warming Pollution in North Carolina

Released by: Environment America

Executive Summary

North Carolina could limit its contribution to global warming over the next 15 years by implementing policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks.

Global warming poses a serious threat to North Carolina’s future. Scientists project that average temperatures in North Carolina could increase by 8Ëš to 15ËšF over the next century if no action is taken to reduce global warming pollution. Warming could cause thousands of square miles in the state to be flooded, increase damage from storms, and cause air quality to worsen, as well as harm North Carolina’s economy, public health and environment in a host of other ways. 

Controlling global warming pollution from the transportation sector—and particularly cars and light trucks—is essential if North Carolina is to begin to reduce its emissions and its long-term impact on the climate.

Transportation-related emissions are responsible for approximately 34 percent of North Carolina’s global warming pollution, the second largest source of pollution behind electricity generation. Cars and light trucks—such as pickups, minivans and SUVs—are the most important sources of global warming pollution within the transportation sector, responsible for approximately two-thirds of all emissions from transportation and nearly one-quarter of North Carolina’s total emissions of global warming pollution. 

Carbon dioxide pollution from cars and light trucks in North Carolina could increase by 12 percent from 2005 to 2020 unless action is taken to reduce emissions.

  • Emissions from cars and trucks increased by nearly 33 percent between 1990 and 2005 and are projected to rise by an additional 12 percent between 2005 and 2020. 
  • Vehicle travel increased by 29 percent from 1996 to 2006 and is projected to grow by another 39 percent by 2020, causing global warming pollution from transportation to rise significantly.
  • Slow implementation of stronger federal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for cars and light trucks also feeds the growth in North Carolina’s carbon dioxide pollution from transportation.

North Carolina can significantly reduce carbon dioxide pollution from cars and light trucks by adopting the Clean Cars Program. 

  • The Clean Cars Program establishes limits on health-damaging pollution and global warming pollution from automobiles. Using standards that grow stronger over time, the Clean Cars Program will reduce global warming pollution from cars and the lightest passenger trucks by 34 percent by 2016 and from heavier passenger trucks by 25 percent.
  • By implementing the program as soon as possible, North Carolina could reduce carbon dioxide pollution from cars and light trucks by 10 percent below the levels that would be achieved under the recently improved federal fuel economy standards by 2020. (See Figure ES-1.) 
  • Once the program is fully implemented in 2016, consumers are projected to save $20 to $26 per month on vehicles complying with the standard, with reduced fuel costs more than making up for the increased cost of the vehicle. These savings assume gasoline prices remain at their current level.
  • The Clean Cars Program will pave the way for the widespread introduction of technologies like “plug-in” hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles, direct-injection engines, advanced transmissions, improved air conditioning systems, and other technologies with the potential to reduce pollution.
  • Even with implementation of the Clean Cars Program, carbon dioxide pollution from cars and light trucks in 2020 would remain 1 percent higher than in 2005 because of a large projected increase in vehicle travel. Thus, North Carolina will need to adopt additional policies to stabilize and reduce emissions from the transportation sector.

North Carolina should move quickly to adopt policies that will stabilize and ultimately reduce carbon dioxide pollution from cars and light trucks. 

  • North Carolina should adopt the Clean Cars Program so that it takes effect in model year 2012.
  • North Carolina should invest in public transit and adopt transit-oriented development policies that reduce vehicle travel, further helping to reduce global warming pollution from the transportation sector.