Pruitt reopens ‘inappropriate’ efficiency rules to cheers, jeers

Source: Camille von Kaenel and Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporters • Posted: Tuesday, April 3, 2018

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision today to revise Obama-era fuel economy rules was cheered by automakers and free-market groups but blasted by environmentalists and Democratic members of Congress.

Pruitt declared the clean car rules for model years 2022 to 2025 “inappropriate” in a news release today.

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will continue to hammer out a proposal for new standards in the coming months. The Obama-era rules would have brought average real-world fuel economy of cars and trucks to 36 mpg, or a corporate average fuel economy target of 54.5 mpg.

“This was the right decision, and we support the Administration for pursuing a data-driven effort and a single national program as it works to finalize future standards,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in a statement. “We appreciate that the Administration is working to find a way to both increase fuel economy standards and keep new vehicles affordable to more Americans.”

The alliance had lobbied Pruitt to reopen the standards, arguing the rules would make cars more expensive for consumers.

“To ensure ongoing fuel economy improvement, the wisest course of action is to keep new vehicles affordable so more consumers can replace an older car with a new vehicle that uses much less fuel — and offers more safety features,” Bergquist said in the statement.

Some car companies, such as Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd., started speaking out about their support for the clean car standards ahead of the decision. They could lose the money they’ve invested in innovative technology if the Trump administration proceeds with a major reduction. They could also face a patchwork of regulations in the country.

California officials vowed to keep requiring cars to meet the strict Obama-era targets. 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.

“This is a politically motivated effort to weaken clean vehicle standards with no documentation, evidence or law to back up that decision,” said California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols. “This is not a technical assessment, it is a move to demolish the nation’s clean car program.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called it a “cynical and meretricious abuse of power.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called the decision a gift to “Big Oil and the auto industry,” adding, “I will use every legislative tool available to me in the Senate to block the Trump administration’s attempts to gut these standards that benefit consumers, our security and our planet.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called the move “disappointing.” The senator said he hoped the White House and California would avoid a major clash.

“Despite today’s disappointing announcement, I continue to believe that a ‘win-win’ solution, that can garner the support of both automakers and the State of California, is within reach,” Carper said in a statement. “Such a solution, though, will require a serious negotiation to take place and an end to polarizing rhetoric that challenges states’ rights and questions clear climate science.”

Environmental groups also derided the decision. Some led a protest outside Ford’s government affairs office in Washington (see related story). The transportation sector recently surpassed the power sector as the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. The Obama-era rules for 2022 to 2025 would have saved 540 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and 1.2 billion barrels of oil over the course of their lifetime, according to government estimates.

“Our clean car standards are one of America’s biggest environmental success stories,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, who called Pruitt’s move “a dead-end road.”

“They have saved us money at the gas pump, have inspired the technological innovation that leads to jobs and economic growth, have helped make our air cleaner and safer to breathe, and have helped us address the growing threat of climate change,” Krupp said.

“The Trump administration’s decision will take America backward by jeopardizing successful safeguards that are working to clean our air, save drivers money at the pump and drive technological innovation that creates jobs,” Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s clean vehicles and fuels project, said in a statement.

“The American public overwhelmingly supports strong vehicle standards because they cut the cost of driving, reduce air pollution and combat climate change,” Tonachel added. “Backing off now is irresponsible and unwarranted.”

Free-market groups, meanwhile, expressed support for the Trump administration’s efforts to scale back Obama-era fuel economy rules in a letter today to Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

“We stand ready to help you and your team in any way,” says the letter from 12 groups, including the American Energy Alliance and Competitive Enterprise Institute.

AEA President Tom Pyle told E&E News, “The CAFE program has careened out of control. I think the Trump administration recognizes that.”

“It’s one thing for California to be looking out for California,” Pyle continued. “It’s another thing for California to be setting national environmental policy.”