EPA Wants National Fuel Efficiency Standard, Setting Up A Showdown with States

Source: By Ken Silverstein, Environmental Leader • Posted: Thursday, February 1, 2018

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told lawmakers on Tuesday that he favored a national fuel standard, putting in jeopardy the potentially stricter standards to be applied in California and Massachusetts and calling into question his earlier commitment to federalism and state rights.

Pruitt, who spoke before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, he said that any changes would happen in April. But his deputies have said that the agency favors a national standard. “Federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate to the rest of the country.”

Just after he was confirmed as EPA chief, he said, “Regulations ought to make things regular,” adding  that Congress has given the states more leeway to draw their own conclusions — to engender their trust and to see the federal government as partners, not adversaries.

The impact would hit those states that would like to set emissions standards tougher than those at the federal level — a waiver granted under the Obama administration. California voted in 2017 to allow stricter emissions regs for cars and trucks. Twelve other states follow its lead, ranging from New York State to Washington State.

The national standard is now 54.5 miles per gallon for light trucks by 2025. It would also 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the lifetimes of the vehicles sold in model years 2012-2025. It would also reduce America’s dependence on oil by more than 2 million barrels per day. The 2025 fuel standard is basically twice what it was in 2012.

And while the EPA has said that it will push for a national standard, it is amenable to having discussions with California — to develop a compromise solution, if you will.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that having one national program is really important,” Bill Wehrum, EPA’s head of air and radiation said, as quoted by The Hill. “From a good, solid national and public policy standpoint, the very best outcome for all of us to achieve is one national program,” he continued in a talk to the Washington Auto Show.

All this comes at a time when California Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order that would increase the number of zero-emissions cars to hit the roads there by 2030. The goal: 5 million vehicles, the governor said during State of the State. At the same time, he ordered that proceeds from auctioning carbon credits would go toward creating vehicle charging stations. In all, about $4 billion will get targeted to expanding electric cars and charging stations.

Governor Brown is also proposing an eight-year initiative that would continue the state’s clean vehicle rebates and that would spur more infrastructure investments. This $2.5 billion initiative would help bring 250,000 vehicle charging stations and 200 hydrogen fueling stations to California by 2025, his administration says.

“This executive order aims to curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks and boost the number of zero-emission vehicles driven in California,” said Brown in a statement. “In addition, the cap-and-trade investments will, in varying degrees, reduce California’s carbon footprint and improve the quality of life for all.”

The auto sector that accounts for 50% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of smog-forming pollutants, the state says.

Some background on how the fuel standards have been the subject of debate among car makers, environmentalists and lawmakers: Last spring, the Trump administration said it would review fuel efficiency standards — ones that it said would be both financially and technically infeasible for automakers.

The current rules had been set in 2011 under the Obama administration, all tied to an agreement it had reached with those same automakers. But that pact had been set for review in 2018 at the behest of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, saying that the objectives cost too much and that most vehicles would not be in compliance by 2025. Put in context, the Obama administration had bailed out General Motors and Chrysler and gas prices were much higher and closer to $4 a gallon in 2012.

Any change, though, would need the approval of the US Department of Transportation, along with the EPA and the state of California that would deviate from the national standard. Beyond that, it would lead to lawsuits that could tie-up the matter in courts for years.

“Many policy analyses do not account for the tradeoffs that automakers can make between fuel economy and other aspects of vehicle performance, particularly acceleration,” writes Kate Whitefoot, for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We studied the role that these tradeoffs play in automaker responses to the regulations and found that, once they are considered, the costs to consumers and producers were about 40% lower, and reductions in fuel use and GHG emissions were many times higher,” Whitefoot adds, also an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.