Dems pledge to fight ‘backwards’ rollback

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Six Democratic senators yesterday vowed to block EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s move to roll back clean car rules.

“We’re just here to say that we are going to fight the administration’s attempts to gut the fuel economy standards that were agreed to by the industry in the year 2012,” Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said at a news conference at the Capitol.

Pruitt “said that the current standards are ‘wrong and too high.’ That statement is as wrong as a $50-a-night condo in Washington, D.C.,” Markey said, referencing the EPA administrator’s housing scandal.

Also present were Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

“The Trump-Pruitt plan has it exactly backwards,” Van Hollen said. “Under their plan, air pollution goes up; the amount of money in consumers’ pockets goes down.”

Markey said he would introduce legislation called the “Gas Money Saved Act” to block any EPA rulemaking to weaken standards for tailpipe emissions from cars and light trucks made between 2022 and 2025.

The legislation would reaffirm EPA’s final determination in 2017 that the fuel economy standards were appropriate. Text of the bill is not yet available.

Markey also pledged to fight any attempt by Pruitt to revoke California’s waiver under the Clean Air Act, which allows the state to set its own, more stringent fuel economy rules.

Twelve other states and the District of Columbia have signed on to those rules, representing about 40 percent of new vehicles sold in the country. Bennet said Colorado would consider adopting California’s standards if the federal rules were relaxed.

Whitehouse, one of the most outspoken climate hawks in Congress, blasted auto companies for hiding behind their main trade association, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

While Ford Motor Co. executives wrote a postlast month that appeared to extoll the clean car standards, the alliance has lobbied for less stringent rules.

Automakers “went before the American public, and they made a public promise as to what they would do,” Whitehouse said. “They are now hiding behind their trade association and breaking their word to the American public.”

The alliance has said it supports revising the fuel standards to keep new vehicles affordable for more Americans.

Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation during the Obama administration, praised the Democratic lawmakers’ “incredible leadership” at the news conference.

McCabe, who worked on the first midterm review of the fuel economy standards, said she doubted any rulemaking aimed at weakening the rules would survive legal challenges.

“The standards are the same today as they were a year ago, and they will stay the same until EPA does a rulemaking where they can point to a record that they can defend in court that shows that a different outcome is appropriate,” she said. “My view is that they will not be able to do that.”

In terms of other legislative options for maintaining the stringency of the fuel economy rules, Markey said, “We expect them to exhaust all legislative opportunities to take these protections off the books.”

He added: “We will fight it if they put it in the budget. We will fight it if they try to put it in another omnibus. We will fight it if they try to put it in any other must-pass bill. We will fight it. We will make this a national issue.”