Trump team wants to roll back Obama-era mileage standards

Michele Stevens
August 6, 2018

Automakers have long pressed for one set of rules for emissions and greenhouse gases, saying a national regulatory framework to improve fuel economy reduces complexity and costs for the industry.

Trump's decision to challenge California's authority to regulate vehicle emissions upends decades of federal policy that allowed the most populous and richest US state to combat air pollution that particularly afflicts Los Angeles. Republicans in states with links to the auto industry may contend the administration is working to ensure automakers can make more profitable larger vehicles, including fuel-thirsty pickups and SUVs, without excess regulation and state interference.

That loophole is a rule that now allows California, New York and 12 other states to set their own mileage standards. California and 16 other states already have filed suit to block any change in the fuel efficiency rules.

"This has to be absolutely one of the most harmful and dumbest actions that the EPA has taken", Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said. The Trump proposal would freeze standards at 2020 levels when vehicles will be required to hit an average of 30 miles per gallon (48 kilometres per gallon) in real-world driving.

The proposed change, halting further improvement requirements, stakes its case on consumer choice and on highway safety claims challenged by many transportation experts. The administration argues that should make new cars cheaper, and get newer, safer cars on the roads quicker as a result.

The agency's argument is that lower vehicle prices allow consumers to buy newer vehicles with better technology that will save lives on the road.

Attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia say they'll go to court to stop a proposed rollback in mileage standards. "It's going to cost drivers here and across the country hundreds of millions of dollars more at the pump".

Trump administration will freeze the average fuel economy standards after 2021, when it is expected to be about 36 miles per gallon (7.8 liters per 100 km). California and the automakers agreed to the rules in 2012, setting a single national fuel economy standard.

The proposal to roll back anti-pollution efforts is in line with President Donald Trump's decision past year to abandon the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which countries agreed to take steps to mitigate global warming. Vehicle expert Simon Mui at the Natural Resources Defense Council says those losses would hit the estimated 200,000 USA auto-industry jobs that deal with making vehicles more fuel efficient.

A Transportation Department spokesperson called the estimate of job losses "rough approximations".


Thursday's proposal would freeze an effort by the Obama administration meant to promote auto fuel efficiency and curb tailpipe emissions of climate-changing pollutants.

The administration also contends that hiking USA oil consumption by 2 to 3 percent over forecast levels would have a minimal impact on the environment, boosting global average temperature by just "3/1000th of a degree Celsius by 2100".

That legal threat is what worries the nation's automakers, who will now urge the Trump administration to go back to the table and find a way to strike a deal with California and the other states before issuing a final proposal.

The Obama administration had planned to keep toughening fuel requirements through 2026, saying those and other regulations on vehicles would save 40,000 lives annually through cleaner air. The argument remained on the EPA's website Thursday.

Automakers have made it clear that while they wanted more flexibility in meeting fuel economy targets, they also recognized that a sizable portion of the public expected fuel efficiency to keep rising and that any standards should take that into account while also allowing them more room to sell larger, less fuel-efficient SUVs, cars and trucks USA consumers are demanding in showrooms. That would price many buyers out of the new-vehicle market, forcing them to drive older, less-safe vehicles that pollute more, the administration says.

"The Trump Administration has launched a brazen attack, no matter how it is cloaked, on our nation's Clean Car Standards", California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, said in a statement. It would also put more lives at risk due to asthma-inducing emissions, environmental advocates say.

A drawn-out legal battle over the standards could hurt the auto industry as it tries to plan for coming model years.

In 2012, when the standards were first adopted, cars were about 50 per cent of new-vehicle sales.

Tom Krisher reported from Detroit.

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