Vehicle emission standards

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Creating Vehicle emission standards (McCollum9)

Emission standards are the legal requirements governing air pollutants released into the atmosphere. Emission standards set quantitative limits on the permissible amount of specific air pollutants that may be released from specific sources over specific timeframes. They are generally designed to achieve air quality standards and to protect human health. Many emissions standards focus on regulating pollutants released by automobiles (motor cars) and other powered vehicles. These sources include vehicles, engines, and motorized equipment that produce exhaust and evaporative emissions.


An emission performance standard is a limit that sets thresholds above which a different type of emission control technology might be needed. While emission performance standards have been used to dictate limits for conventional pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen and oxides of sulfur (NOx and Sox), this regulatory technique may be used to regulate greenhouse gasses, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2). In the US, this is given in pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour (lbs. CO2/MWhr), and kilograms CO2/MWhr elsewhere.



1) Decrease the rate of environmental damage from automobiles

2) Increase the fuel efficiency of automobile transportation

3) Increase the amount of automobile transportation data available for planning and administration

Conceptual Example

In the United States, vehicle emissions standards are managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is a federal government agency which was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress. For vehicle emissions, the EPA writes the standards that all vehicles in the United States have to abide by.

Specific Example

EPA Emission Standards

EPA regulates the emissions from mobile sources by setting standards for the specific pollutants being emitted. EPA established progressively more stringent emission standards for carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, starting in the mid-1970s for on-road vehicles and in the early 1990s for nonroad engines and equipment. Emissions standards set limits on the amount of pollution a vehicle or engine can emit. EPA realizes that to reduce mobile source pollution we must address not only vehicles, engines, and equipment, but also the fuels they use. So we have set sulfur standards for gasoline, on-road diesel fuel, and nonroad diesel fuel. The road to clean air also depends on extensive collaboration between EPA and vehicle, engine, and fuel manufacturers; state and local governments; transportation planners; and individual citizens. This integrated approach to mobile source emission control is responsible for greatly reducing mobile source air pollution during the last 30 years. Technological advances in vehicle and engine design, together with cleaner, higher-quality fuels, have reduced emissions so much that EPA expects the progress to continue, even as people drive more miles and use more power equipment every year.



Tradeoffs of having vehicle emission standards:

Expensive to create an agency that regulates emissions.

Difficult to monitor all the different vehicles on the road, and the manufactures.

Trade-offs of not having vehicle emission standards:

More Pollution

Poor air quality

Inefficient vehicles

High amounts of fuel usage

Slower growth in existing technology used to control emissions/use fuel efficiently.

Compatibility Assessment

Compatibility Assessment.png

Is pollution a problem for your country or your city?

Is air quality affecting the health of your citizens?

Are vehicles using fuel inefficiently?

Are you using too much fuel?

Are you interested in becoming more of a sustainable country/city?



Vehicle Emission Standards are created by a governing body and are unique for each situation. The design of them is creating standards for the specific pollutants being emitted. The pollutants that are being measured are standards for carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter

Vehicle emission standards test vehicles for compliance with emission standards by measuring their tailpipe emissions during rigorously-defined driving cycles that simulate a typical driving pattern. Two things that are measured are both emissions (exhaust) and fuel economy.


Has adoption of: There are 9 countries that have national policies when it comes to vehicle emission standards. Additionally there are many cities that also have emission standards, that are often more strict than national policies, suchas California.

For governance level(s): National, State, or Local

For area type(s): Urban, Sub-urban, Rural

For issue type(s): Sustainability, Efficiency, Environment


United States







South Africa





Advocates - Alternative Energy

Advocates - Environmental Justice

Advocates - Environmental Protection

Associations - Vehicle Parts Suppliers

Constituent Groups - Homeowners

Constituent Groups - Local Businesses

Constituent Groups - Local Residents

Constituent Groups - Pedestrians

Constituent Groups - Tourists

Electeds - Local Legislators

Electeds - Local Executives

Electeds - State and Provincial Legislators

Electeds - State and Provincial Executives

Electeds - National Legislators

Electeds - National Executives

Government Agencies - Environmental Protection

Government Agencies - Highways

Government Agencies - Motor Vehicles

Government Agencies - Transportation



Associations - Automobile Manufacturers

Associations - Bus Manufacturers

Constituent Groups - Automobile Clubs and Owners




Success in making the air cleaner

effectiveness of vehicle emission control policies

Maryland Clean Cars Program

Does emissions testing improve air quality?



Related Policies

Vehicle fuel efficiency standards

Vehicle fuel taxes

Vehicle idling restrictions

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