White House To Rescind EPA Mileage, Greenhouse Gas Standards

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

Following a request by auto industry lobbyists for new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to rescind the agency’s longterm fuel-economy and emissions standards, President Trump is expected to announce that his administration will indeed undo the guidance locked in during the last days of the Obama White House.

Back in 2012, the EPA established a far-sighted program to establish mileage and greenhouse gas emissions standards on most new vehicles through 2025. That regulation also required that the EPA undertake a midterm review of the program to determine if those standards should be revised.

The auto industry says it did not expect this review to happen until 2018, though the EPA issued its final determination [PDF] in January, finding that the original guidelines should remain in place, effectively locking in the standards established for model years 2022 through 2025.

Concluding — as the auto industry did — that the final determination is not official as it had not yet been published in the Federal Register, White House officials confirm the EPA will not consider the midterm review complete.

“We are going to pull back the EPA determination, spend another year looking at data and make sure everything is right,” a White House said in advance of today’s announcement, which President Trump will make while visiting Detroit today.

The official contends that the EPA’s goal is to now set standards that are economically feasible for the auto industry, and that will help carmakers create jobs.

Under the regulations, as they were locked in, standards established for model years 2022 through 2025 would raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025 from 27.5 mpg in 2010.

In the to-be-rescinded determination, the EPA stated that — between existing and new technology — it will be “practical and feasible for automakers to meet the MY2022-2025 standards at reasonable cost” while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing oil consumption.

That report concluded that the longterm standards laid out in the 2012 plan could be achieved without resulting in “material adverse impact on the industry, safety, or consumers.”

January’s final determination was based on findings released in July 2016 by the EPA, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California Air Resources Board. That Draft Technical Assessment Report [PDF], which looked at whether or not the auto industry will be able to reach the 2022 to 2025 mpg standards, was the first step in the mid-term review.

Automakers and auto trade groups, however, argued in letters to the EPA’s new administrator Pruitt in February that the previous administration rushed the review ahead of schedule, and that the agency didn’t take into account the reality of what kinds of cars consumers are buying.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — whose members include Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Volkswagen, Mazda, and Volvo — said in its letter [PDF] that based on the projections in the 2012 rule, “[N]o conventional vehicle today meets that target, and conventional vehicles compromise 96.5% of the new light-duty vehicle fleet.”

The Association of Global Automakers, which represents a number of major overseas manufacturers like Nissan, Subaru, Honda, and Hyundai, argued [PDF] that the EPA’s final determination took the industry by surprise and didn’t take adequate time to consider the more than 100,000 comments submitted.

Conversely, some public health and consumer advocates countered that the automakers had glossed over the amount of work the EPA put into its 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,” Roland Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Wall Street Journal in February. “Revisiting the final determination opens up what should be a science-based decision to political meddling.”

An analysis [PDF] released earlier this month by our colleagues at Consumer Reports found that, contrary to the auto industry’s arguments, the recent improvements in fuel economy has actually helped lower-income Americans.

The report notes that the average price of new cars and light-duty trucks has remained relatively flat for the last two decades, while the price of a used vehicle has fallen slightly during this time. At the same time, the average fuel economy has improved.

“Higher fuel economy standards lower vehicle ownership costs for all households, but particularly for low-income households, whether they buy new or used vehicles,” argued that analysis.

Our colleagues at Consumers Union asked the Trump administration to reconsider rescinding the standards on Wednesday, noting that the decision to withdraw the standards is nonsensical.

“EPA conducted a robust review of these standards for nearly two years, taking into account the input from automakers, including thousands of pages of technology and cost assessments, and concluded that the standards were appropriate,” Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in a statement. “By rejecting the EPA’s final determination now, its new Administrator is signaling the agency plans to weaken the standards instead.”

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