EPA rejects automakers’ bid to weaken fuel efficiency standards

The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a bid by automakers to roll back fuel efficiency standards that would sharply increase mileage by 2025, saying that the auto companies possess the technology and financial resources to meet the targets set by the Obama administration.

Citing eight years of research, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that “at every step in the process the analysis has shown that the greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks remain affordable and effective through 2025, and will save American drivers billions of dollars at the pump while protecting our health and the environment.”

The standards for model years 2022 through 2025 would result in a fleetwide average fuel economy sticker values of 36 miles a gallon by the model year 2025, 10 miles a gallon higher than the current fleet average, EPA said. If anything, McCarthy said, the standards could have been made more stringent.

The EPA decision, reaffirming the outcome of a technical report last year, is not a regulation but an “adjudication” and therefore cannot be undone under the Congressional Review Act, according to environmentalists familiar with the decision.

“The EPA decision is disappointing,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which filed its comments on the Dec. 30 deadline. “Our fundamental priority remains striking the right balance to continue fuel economy gains and carbon reduction without compromising consumer affordability and vital auto-sector jobs.”

But environmental groups praised the EPA. “The clean-car standard is the biggest single step any nation has taken to fight oil use and global warming,” said Daniel Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign. “Despite dire automaker warnings that the rules would be unachievable, the car companies are now complying — making huge profits and selling record numbers of vehicles.”

The fuel efficiency standards were negotiated early in the Obama administration when automakers were reeling from the financial crisis and sharp drop in vehicle sales. The Obama administration helped General Motors through bankruptcy in 2009 and extended $5.9 billion in loans to help Ford upgrade 13 plants and boost fuel efficient technologies.

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the standards would trim U.S. oil consumption by about 2.4 million barrels a day, more than 10 percent of total petroleum consumption.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must still issue a five-year plan by 2018 or 2019 and Bergquist warned of a possible “regulatory collision.” But NHTSA has agreed with EPA assessments over the past few months and altering its conclusion could be difficult, Becker said.

The EPA decision Thursday marked the end of a so-called midterm review of fuel efficiency standards that were designed to reshape the efficiency of the motor vehicle fleet. In setting the standards, the Obama administration in 2012 agreed to auto industry demands that the targets be reexamined for technological and economic feasibility and possibly reset in 2017.

“When these standards were designed, in close cooperation with automakers, they included a midterm review to ask one simple question: is the policy working?” Kimmell said in a statement. “After years of gathering information and careful analysis, the answer is yes.”

The technical report issued in July by the EPA and Transportation Department said there is no economic or technological barrier preventing automakers from continuing to boost fuel efficiency and to hit the standards for vehicles based on their size and footprints. It said that “a wider range of technologies exist” for manufacturers to meet targets “and at costs that are similar or lower” than those used to set the standards. The report said that so far automakers had “overcomplied” in each of three model years under the new rules, exceeding the targets by 1.4 mpg in 2014.

Becker said that the EPA had meticulously studied fuel efficiency advances in combustion engines. “This is not rocket science. This is auto mechanics,” Becker said. He said that the EPA had reached its conclusion after months of study in which the agency had taken apart engines and examined the cost of key components.

“The Clean Cars Standards are already successfully protecting both Americans’ lungs and their wallets. They’re also driving innovations that are creating auto industry jobs,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Today’s determination ensures that we can all continue to breathe – and drive – a little easier.”

Banners for automobile brands adorn a dealership in Yucca Valley, Calif. (Paul Buck/European Pressphoto Agency)

Fuel Efficiency Standards: EPA Finalizes Rules, Making It More Difficult For Trump Administration To Undo Them

The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday it will finalize rules regulating fuel efficiency standards for vehicles through 2025, keeping in place a policy that was believed to be at risk of repeal under the incoming Donald Trump administration.

The policy will mandate automakers produce cars that offer at least 51.4 miles per gallon equivalent (mpg-e) by 2025. The mpg-e measurement is used by the EPA to compare the energy consumption of alternative fuel vehicles like electric cars to vehicles with the fuel economy of conventional vehicles.

Translated, the goal of 51.4 mpg-e works out to about 36 miles per gallon in real world fuel consumption. Reaching that level would raise the industry average for fuel economy by 10 degrees per mile over the next eight years.

Finalizing the rules on Friday doesn’t guarantee the Trump administration won’t be able to overturn the policy, but it does make the task considerably more challenging.

The EPA first drafted the recommendations in December, and auto manufacturers attempted to argue the agency should hold off on setting the rules in stone. They argue the standards will raise vehicle costs and accused the EPA of rushing its process—which wasn’t required to be finalized until 2018—in order to preempt any changes planned under the Trump administration.

Reversing the rules at this point would require the new EPA leadership to initiate a new rulemaking session and make changes to the current standards that were set in place back in 2012. The changes would be subject to challenge, and the EPA would have to defend in court its decision to ditch eight years of technical analysis, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Trump hasn’t taken an official policy position on fuel efficiency standards, but he has staffed his transition team with people who would likely advise him to do so.

Trump senior policy advisor John Mashburn was quoted as saying the Trump administration intended to complete “a comprehensive review of all federal regulations” including a review of the fuel economy and emissions standards to “make sure they are not harming consumers or American workers.”

Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma and the nominee to run the EPA during the Trump presidency, has denied the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. He also has considerable ties to the fossil fuel industry, including an instance where he sent a letter to the EPA challenging its emissions estimates from natural gas wells in Oklahoma that turned out to have been written by Devon Energy, one of the oil and gas companies operating in the state.

Pruitt testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2013 to state his belief that the EPA had overstepped its authority and was pursuing an “anti-fossil fuel agenda.”

Both Trump and Pruitt have called for the neutering of not the complete abolishment of the EPA as a whole, so while the agency’s fuel efficiency standards may survive longer than expected, the agency itself may be in trouble.

EPA backs fuel economy target, but now it faces Trump

The Environmental Protection Agency left stricter automotive fuel economy regulations in place for 2022 to 2025, drawing criticism from the automotive industry and praise from environmental groups.

But the real test may come when the incoming Trump Administration decides whether to reduce the standards in keeping with its pledge to reduce government regulation. Trump's nominee for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, is the attorney general in the oil-rich state of Oklahoma who has stood up to the EPA in the past.

The EPA has been accused of moving too fast in an effort to get the current regulations locked into place before President Obama leaves office on Jan. 20.

The EPA said Friday that it is leaving its standards in place because no change is necessary. The automotive industry, which is deep into electrification and other gas-saving technologies, has demonstrated it is able to adapt.

The decision drew opposition from one powerful automotive industry trade group, saying it fears that tougher standards will force automakers to raise prices on new cars.

"The EPA decision is disappointing. Our fundamental priority remains striking the right balance to continue fuel economy gains and carbon reduction without compromising consumer affordability and vital auto-sector jobs," said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group.

Industry groups began signaling Friday that they hope a new EPA administrator will rescind the decision and resume the evaluation process while environmental groups praised the EPA's actions and vowed to aggressively fight any possible changes.

"The Obama administration today just made new cars and trucks thousands of dollars more expensive for America’s working men and women," the National Automobile Dealers Association said in a statement. "We urge the incoming Trump administration to withdraw today’s action."

But the agency's decision, just days before President Barack Obama leaves office, makes it difficult, but not impossible, for the incoming administration to make changes.

"We believe a whole new rule-making process would need to occur in order to overrule this decision," a process that could easily take two years, said Andrew Linhardt, associate director for federal policy for the Sierra Club.

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