Markey, Wheeler duel on fuel economy

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2018

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) today pressed acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on the Trump administration’s plans to reverse Obama-era auto fuel economy standards.

At the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Markey said the oil and gas industry is behind President Trump’s proposal for the fuel economy rule. Fossil fuel interests stand to benefit if the standards are reversed because more oil will be used, according to the senator.

Markey repeatedly questioned Wheeler about the administration’s plans for the standards. Wheeler defended the proposal, saying it would lead to substantial savings.

Markey said, “The Trump rollback of fuel economy standards, the No. 1 option that the Trump administration is considering is freezing the standards at 2020 levels, that we don’t increase the fuel economy standards after 2020.

“Do you agree that freezing the fuel economy emissions standards at 2020 levels would lead to more oil being consumed than if we kept the standards at their current trajectory?”

Said Wheeler, “I believe that the analysis shows more oil would be consumed, but it will also save 12,000 lives and $500 billion.”

Markey then asked Wheeler whether consumers would pay more at the pump if fuel economy standards were frozen at 2020 levels. The acting EPA chief repeated that they would save $500 billion, but Markey cited a Union of Concerned Scientists study that found freezing the standards would cost drivers $20 billion alone in 2025.

The Massachusetts Democrat also asked whether reversing the standards will result in more greenhouse gas emissions.

“I believe our data show there it will be negligible between the Obama proposal and our proposal,” Wheeler said.

Markey responded, “Well, you’re wrong. Freezing the standards would mean an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming pollution by 2040, equal to 43 coal-fired power plants.”

At the end of the exchange, Wheeler noted that in “the next day or two” the Trump administration’s proposal on the fuel economy standards will be published in the Federal Register and interested parties should comment on the plan.

Wheeler was also asked about his predecessor Scott Pruitt’s use of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s special hiring authority to bring on senior political staff at EPA.

Pruitt and top officials’ use of the hiring provision attracted scrutiny, especially after close aides to the former EPA chief received hefty pay raises under the authority that were later reversed. The EPA inspector general is reviewing the matter and is expected to release its report this month.

At today’s hearing, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) noted that she and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member on EPW, had introduced legislation to shed more light on the special hires, known as “administratively determined” appointments.

“To restore confidence in the use of this authority, will you commit to supporting our legislation that will improve transparency and make sure this committee is notified in regard to who is being appointed under the special hiring authority and why?” Duckworth asked Wheeler.

“Senator, I would be happy to work with you on the legislation, and I would be happy to provide you with a list on who we hired under that authority, as well,” Wheeler said.