California, Maryland, Connecticut gear up to fight US fuel economy rollback

Source: By Meghan Gordon, SPG Global • Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Washington — Top officials from California, Maryland and Connecticut vowed Friday to take whatever legal action necessary to preserve their tougher tailpipe rules if the Trump administration rolls back federal fuel economy standards.

US oil demand would increase by 500,000 b/d under a proposal announced by the Trump administration in August to weaken fuel economy rules for light duty vehicles by freezing efficiency gains at the 2020 target of 43.7 mpg.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will hold hearings on the proposed rollback next week in Fresno, California; Dearborn, Michigan; and Pittsburgh.

As part of the proposal, EPA is considering revoking California’s waiver to set stricter standards. A dozen other states and the District of Columbia follow California’s lead.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told reporters Friday that losing the battle over the waiver was not an option.

“We don’t see that changing and we’re going to use every tool at our disposal to make sure that doesn’t change,” he said.

Becerra said California’s economy is the fifth largest in the world and has grown as a result of its push for cleaner vehicles.

“If there were a problem with cleaning up our air it would have showed up in our economy,” he said.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said during the same briefing they do not expect the administration to change the proposal, no matter what they hear during the public comment period.

“It seems very clear from everything the EPA has done and everything the president has said that they’ve reached a conclusion that they are going to roll back these standards and they’re just hell-bent on doing it,” Frosh said.

“They’re unwilling or uninterested in hearing other points of view, looking at the science, looking at the facts,” Frosh said, adding: “If they continue to head down that path, we’ll end up in court.”

In August, EPA and the Department of Transportation released a 978-page proposed rulemaking with the recommended 2020 freeze along with other potential options. The agencies will take public comment for 60 days and continue negotiations with California, other states and automakers. The agencies aim to issue a final rule this winter, a representative with DOT said.

Agency officials said the Obama-era targets made vehicles too expensive, leading drivers to put off replacing older cars for longer. They said scaling back the targets would result in a newer, safer vehicle fleet that would save 2,700 lives.

The proposal says “relatively low fuel prices potentially through 2050” will lead US consumers to put a higher value on attributes other than fuel economy, making it harder for automakers to sell vehicles that meet the stricter targets.

The rules for corporate average fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions impact automakers’ decisions about vehicle body weights, engine specifications, and promotion of hybrid and electric vehicles.

In January 2017, EPA determined ahead of schedule and in the final days of the Obama administration that US automakers are meeting the targets quicker and at lower costs than expected, leaving the industry more than able to meet the 2025 goal of 54.5 mpg for the nationwide fleet average. The original deadline was April 2018.

US automakers have invested too much in so-called “lightweighting” of the vehicle fleet to abandon the trend, no matter what the Trump administration does with the CAFE standards, a major aluminum components maker told S&P Global Platts last year.