Automakers Ask New EPA Chief Pruitt To Rescind Mileage, Greenhouse Gas Standards

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Now that Scott Pruitt — the former Oklahoma Attorney General who repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency — has been sworn in as the Administrator of the agency whose policies he once attacked, auto industry lobbyists are calling on the EPA to put a stop to longterm fuel-economy and emissions standards locked in by the previous White House.

Back in 2012, the EPA established a far-sighted program to establish mileage and greenhouse gas emissions standards on most vehicles through 2025. That regulation also required that the EPA undertake a midterm review of the program to determine if those standards should be modified, so on Jan. 12, then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy released a final determination [PDF] that the original guidelines are still good, effectively locking in the standards established for model years 2022 through 2025.

In separate letters sent this week, two auto industry lobbying groups have asked Pruitt to halt this final determination and rethink the standards.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — whose members include Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Volkswagen, Mazda, and Volvo — said in its letter [PDF] that it only went along with the 2012 regulation on the condition that EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration undertake a thorough mid-term review of the standards. The Alliance contends that the EPA rushed this review ahead of schedule, and that the agency didn’t take into account the reality of what kinds of cars consumers are buying.

“Based on the projections in the 2012 rule, manufacturers must achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon equivalent across their new vehicle fleets by 2025,” writes Alliance President Mitch Bainwol. “[N]o conventional vehicle today meets that target, and conventional vehicles compromise 96.5% of the new light-duty vehicle fleet.”

Bainwol says the current cost of meeting these standards would be $200 billion — a figure that he dubs “staggering,” even though it’s spread out over the entire industry and over the course of 13 years.

The Alliance letter claims that the auto industry had been promised that no final determination would be reached until at least mid-2017, and that the process would be collaborative. So, says Bainwol, carmakers began to undertake new studies in anticipation of sharing their results with EPA.

The car companies say they were taken by surprise in Nov. 2016, when EPA proposed to lock in the MY2022-2025 standards as they were, and only gave the industry until Dec. 30 to comment.

Bainwol contends that Pruitt has the authority to rescind the final determination, as it has not been published in the Federal Register.

Many of these same issues were addressed in a separate letter [PDF] sent by the Association of Global Automakers, which represents a number of major overseas manufacturers like Nissan, Subaru, Honda, and Hyundai, and which argues that EPA failed to properly consider the approximately 100,000 comments filed in late 2016.

“The fact that EPA finalized its Determination a mere 13 days after the close of the comment period demonstrates that the agency could not have adequately responded to all of these comments,” reads the letter [emphasis in original]. “Indeed, a review of the final Determination and the Response to Comments reveals that EPA did not provide adequate responses to the many comments given.”

Roland Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council, tells the Wall Street Journal that the auto industry is glossing over the work that the EPA actually put into the final determination.

“EPA has already engaged in an extensive, thorough and lengthy process to evaluate the best technical evidence and found no basis to weaken the standards,” said Hwang. “Revisiting the final determination opens up what should be a science-based decision to political meddling.”

Even before Pruitt was confirmed as EPA chief, the auto industry was actively lobbying the White House. Bloomberg reports that in January, Ford CEO Mark Fields took time at an auto industry summit with President Trump to make their case that these standards would result in significant job losses, though Fields claims that he didn’t specifically ask Trump to undo the EPA’s final determination.