Group tied to Trump adviser targets fuel economy standards

Source: Ariel Wittenberg and Hannah Northey, E&E News report • Posted: Monday, December 5, 2016

Federal fuel economy standards could come under fire from the Donald Trump administration if it follows a policy “blueprint” released today by the American Energy Alliance, whose president, Tom Pyle, heads Trump’s Department of Energy transition team.

The recommendations push to repeal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, saying the regulations “may have” increased vehicle costs by $6,000.

“Vehicles are already too expensive, and this additional mandate should be stopped and American drivers should be allowed to choose the attributes of the vehicles they drive, rather than Washington bureaucrats,” according to the blueprint.

The blueprint also says Trump’s U.S. EPA should update findings that greenhouse gas emissions harm human health and welfare, which are the basis for carbon dioxide regulations under the CAFE program.

“This finding should be updated with the most recent science and information,” the blueprint says.

Other menu items include exiting the Paris climate accord, scrapping EPA’s Clean Power Plan, opening up more federal land for oil and gas production and coal mining, establishing a state governance structure instead of leasing federal land, and approving projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

AEA also wants to bar the use of the “social cost of carbon” in any rulemaking and repeal the renewable fuel standard.

Energy insiders are watching to see whether Pyle’s past recommendations for reining in spending at DOE will materialize as the Trump administration takes shape.

Last year, for example, the group recommended that appropriators slim down funding for fossil fuels, nuclear power and renewables, eliminate offices within DOE, and terminate the high-profile loan guarantee program to save more than $12 billion.

CAFE standards

AEA’s recommendations come just days after EPA shocked Republicans and the auto industry by advancing its review of the fuel economy standards ahead of schedule (Greenwire, Dec. 2).

Originally scheduled for mid-2017, EPA’s proposed determination to keep the CAFE standards sets the stage for the Obama administration to finish a midterm review of the standards prior to Trump taking office.

EPA Office of Air and Radiation acting chief Janet McCabe insisted yesterday that the move was based on data, and not politics, saying that automakers are well-positioned to reach greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for model years 2022 to 2025.

Indeed, EPA’s draft technical assessment released over the summer showed that automakers could reach an average fuel economy ranging between 50 and 52.6 mpg across their light-duty fleets by 2025 (ClimateWire, July 19).

That document found that though car costs might increase with the standards, consumers would earn back the cost of their car in fuel savings over time.

Even if the Obama administration completes its review before Trump’s inauguration, his administration could still nix CAFE standards.

AEA’s recommendations are the first signal that the Trump administration is looking to cut the standards.

Last month, Trump senior policy adviser John Mashburn told The Wall Street Journal that though the incoming administration would do a “comprehensive review” of Obama administration programs, “It is important to remember that [CAFE] was first put in place as a way to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, not for purposes of global warming regulation.”

That statement gave hope to environmentalists and consumer advocates, who said they hoped the national security benefits of the CAFE program could be its saving grace (Greenwire, Nov. 11).

“CAFE standards would be part of a comprehensive solution to rely on American-produced energy and not rely on OPEC,” Securing America’s Future Energy CEO Robbie Diamond said at the time. “Fuel economy was not put in place for environmental reasons, it was put in place because of the oil embargo, and it is unfortunate that [CAFE] is always framed in an environmental way.”