Calif. Dems press carmakers on fuel efficiency rules

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2018

California’s senators today urged the executives of major automakers to express support for maintaining one national fuel efficiency program.

“The Trump administration is preparing regulatory changes to dramatically weaken the fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger vehicles,” Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris wrote in a string of letters.

“These proposed changes would not only lead to more pollutants in the air all Americans breathe, but also threaten to throw the automobile industry into disarray by causing years of litigation and investment uncertainty,” they wrote.

“We urge you to help avoid these negative consequences for public health and your industry by declaring your support for preserving the single national program of effective fuel economy and vehicle emission standards.”

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are working on a proposal for revised standards. A draft would freeze fuel economy targets at 2020 levels through 2026 (E&E News PM, April 27).

The lawmakers would like to see the agencies work with the California Air Resources Board on a single national program. Yet officials with the California ARB have lamented the lack of outreach from the agencies since EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s April 2 announcement about relaxing the rules (Climatewire, April 27).

The draft proposal doesn’t contain language explicitly revoking California’s Clean Air Act waiver, which lets the state set more stringent vehicle benchmarks because of its air pollution problems.

But it does argue that California lacks the authority to regulate fuel economy under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which gives that power solely to the Transportation Department.

“We understand the administration may challenge California’s authority to set its own tailpipe emission standards under Section 209 of the Clean Air Act,” the Democrats wrote. “As you know, this would provoke years of litigation and investment uncertainty for your industry.”

The missives were sent to the executives of General Motors Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S., Ford Motor Co., American Honda Motor Co. Inc., Toyota Motor North America, Volvo Car USA, Mitsubishi Motors North America, BMW of North America, Subaru of America Inc., Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mazda North American Operations, Jaguar Land Rover North America, Nissan North America, Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America.

With the exception of Asian manufacturers Honda, Nissan, Hyundai and Subaru, all those automakers or their parent companies belong to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The powerful trade association was a driving force in getting the Trump administration to revisit the fuel efficiency rules.

Yet Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the alliance, told a House Energy and Commerce panel today that the group opposes the administration’s proposal to freeze fuel economy targets at 2020 levels through 2026.

The group is “in favor of year-over-year fuel efficiency” increases, Bainwol said.

Honda came out with a detailed proposal this month to keep the Obama-era stringency, which would bring average fuel economy to a projected 50.8 mpg in 2025, or about 36 mpg in the real world, but add incentives for electric vehicles and other special credits.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra has stressed her company’s desire for “one set of requirements” while wanting some reforms to incorporate new developments in shared and autonomous vehicle technology.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett wrote in March that they’re looking for “flexibility” in the rules, not a rollback.