Bipartisan Senate bill would modify fuel economy standards

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, May 26, 2017

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to change fuel economy standards.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) introduced S. 1237 with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), according to the bill obtained by E&E News. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Miss.) are co-sponsors.

The bill echoes long-standing automaker requests to smooth out differences between U.S. EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requirements (Climatewire, June 24).

It consists mostly of technical tweaks and does not directly alter the standards’ stringency.

But environmental groups claim the changes could end up giving automakers looking for help complying with the requirements an easy boost, ultimately increasing fuel use and emissions.

“This bill is another step in the automakers’ push to roll back clean car and fuel economy standards that are reducing pollution and saving drivers money at the pump,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated the changes in the program would lead to 350 million barrels of additional oil being burned, 155 million metric tons of additional global warming emissions and $34 billion in additional fuel costs. Carmakers could be on a path to miss current targets by 8 to 10 mpg in 2025, according to the analysis.

Overall, it could reduce 6 percent of the benefits anticipated for the 2012-2021 rules, according to the analysis.

The Trump administration is already reconsidering EPA’s tailpipe requirements for 2022 to 2025, which were projected to bring average fuel economy to around 50.8 mpg. The emissions standards mark the government’s last remaining substantive initiative to address climate change.

Stabenow said the bill makes “simple changes so our manufacturers, suppliers and workers can continue to make the best products in the world.” The senator said she supported standards that reduced emissions and increased mileage.

Peters said the bill would “align” the regulatory programs to avoid a patchwork of regulations. A spokeswoman said it would not touch EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Car companies cheered the bill.

“Automakers commend the sponsors of this bi-partisan legislation for seeking to better align government programs to avoid unnecessary costs that ultimately are paid by consumers,” said Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in a statement. “We urge Congress to pass this legislation as soon as possible to help keep automobiles affordable to the widest range of customers.”

Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the trade group, wrote that the “environmental benefits” of the program would be “preserved” because the legislation only concerns NHTSA’s fuel economy regulation.

“The legislation will affect neither the targets or intended stringency of the programs nor the Midterm Evaluation,” she added.

The changes were first outlined in a petition last year from automakers. NHTSA said it would consider some of the tweaks as part of its midterm review but that some of them would require legislation.

The legislation, which could still be amended, would among other things allow automakers to retroactively count non-engine technologies that increase fuel savings already deployed on the road toward future compliance.

It would also let manufacturers count more older bonus points they received in the early years of the program for compliance toward future targets.