5 things to know about leaked draft of clean-car rules

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2018

When a leaked draft of a Trump administration proposal for weakening Obama-era clean car rules was posted online late Friday, many observers noted the document was about a month old.

“I didn’t see anything in there that was dramatically new,” a former EPA official said, adding that there was a chance not much would change before it’s unveiled.

“Once proposals go to [the White House Office of Management and Budget], there are numerous iterations,” the former official said. “But rarely do they change substantively. My working premise is that even though this may be an early draft, it’s probably pretty close.”

At issue is a 700-page draft proposal from EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that The New York Times posted Friday evening.

The proposal outlines several options for the car rules, with the preferred option being a freeze of fuel economy targets at 2020 levels through 2026. That’s consistent with a leaked draft obtained by E&E News in April (E&E News PM, April 27).

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to make an announcement about the car rules this week.

In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the proposal’s other claims and what they can tell us:


The proposal argues that freezing the Obama-era standards at 2020 levels through 2026 will save consumers money and increase safety on the nation’s roads.

“Today’s proposal would reduce societal costs by about half a trillion dollars and reduce highway fatalities by up to a thousand lives annually,” the proposal states.

The safety argument has two prongs. One is that automakers often achieve increases in fuel efficiency by light-weighting vehicles, which makes them less safe in the event of a crash. The other is that the Obama-era standards would have raised the price of new vehicles, thus encouraging people to keep their older, less safe models.

But both prongs have been “largely debunked,” said John German, a senior fellow at the International Council on Clean Transportation, the group known for exposing the Volkswagen AG emissions-cheating scandal.

“In the old days, when they talked about lighter vehicles being less safe, it was actually that weight was correlated with size, and the smaller vehicles were correlated with fatalities,” German said.

Climate and air pollution

The proposal maintains that freezing the standards would have a minimal impact on climate change and air pollution.

“The Environmental Impact Statement performed for this rulemaking shows that the preferred alternative would result in 3/1,000ths of a degree Celsius increase in global average temperatures by 2100, relative to the standards finalized in 2012,” the proposal says.

The proposal projects a “similarly minor” increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 8/1,000ths of a degree Celsius by 2100.

That’s “too small to measure in practice,” according to the draft.

Domestic oil consumption

Freezing the standards would lead to an increase in domestic oil consumption of 500,000 barrels per day, the draft says.

That’s equivalent to 182 million barrels a year, it says.

Environmental groups have previously argued that Big Oil could be a major beneficiary of the car rule rollback, despite oil companies’ silence on the matter (Greenwire, July 26).

California waiver

No shocker here: The proposal calls for rescinding California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases.

The agencies argue that California is pre-empted from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which gives that power solely to the Transportation Department.

Such an argument has failed in court before. Under the George W. Bush administration, district courts rebuffed automakers’ attempts to challenge California’s clean cars program.

But EPA and NHTSA “do not agree” with those rulings, the proposal says.

Massachusetts v. EPA

The Trump administration’s push to weaken the clean car rules could ultimately reopen the landmark 2007 Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA, which gave EPA the authority to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions.

In that case, EPA argued it shouldn’t be required to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions because another agency — the Department of Transportation — was already regulating fuel economy.

But in its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled “the fact that DOT’s mandate to promote energy efficiency by setting mileage standards may overlap with EPA’s environmental responsibilities in no way licenses EPA to shirk its duty to protect the public ‘health’ and ‘welfare.'”

The proposal argues that while the Supreme Court addressed “the relationship between EPA and NHTSA rulemaking obligations,” it failed to “consider the issue of preemption under EPCA.”