‘This is another step in the president’s deregulatory agenda’

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2018

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt touted his agency’s reconsideration of Obama-era clean car rules this morning, saying the move would lead to greater regulatory certainty for automakers and lower costs for consumers.

“I am determining that those standards are inappropriate and should be revised,” Pruitt said in a closed-door event in the Rachel Carson Green Room at EPA headquarters that was livestreamed on the agency’s website.

“This will begin a process that will determine what those standards should be,” he said. “It is not conclusory in that regard.”

Pruitt’s formal announcement starts a rulemaking process that’s expected to take months. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will hammer out a detailed proposal for tailpipe emissions from cars and light trucks made between 2022 and 2025.

“This is another step in the president’s deregulatory agenda,” Pruitt said, noting EPA had issued more than 22 actions to ease regulations during his first year in office.

The Obama tailpipe rules would have required automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and light trucks to 54.5 mpg by 2025. Those rules were seen by the past administration as a major step toward addressing rising global temperatures. If fully implemented, they would have reduced oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and curbed carbon dioxide pollution by about 6 billion tons.

EPA’s tailpipe rules are aligned with the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards promulgated by NHTSA. Pruitt said the Obama-era CAFE standards created economic burdens for consumers.

“The focus in the past has been on making manufacturers in Detroit, making people in various parts of the country, make cars that people aren’t going to buy,” Pruitt said. “That defeats the very purpose of the CAFE standards.”

Pruitt notably didn’t mention California, which has a waiver under the Clean Air Act to set its own, more stringent fuel economy standards. Any attempt to revoke the state’s waiver would set up a fierce legal clash with the Golden State.

Pruitt spoke in front of signs saying “CERTAINTY,” “JOBS” and “EFFICIENCY.” He was introduced by Peter Welch, president of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA).

“The key to the equation isn’t just the highest possible standard,” Welch said. “It’s the highest standard we can achieve while making vehicles affordable. … We lose affordability, we lose sales. It’s really as simple as that.”

NADA has been a prominent critic of EPA’s tailpipe rules. The trade group has sent studies to regulators that say the rules cost consumers $3,000 per vehicle, significantly higher than what EPA has found.

John Bozella, president and CEO of Global Automakers, also spoke at the event. “We believe,” he said, “the best way to achieve our collective goals is under a single national program that provides an aggressive but achievable pathway.”

Protest at auto dealership

Protesters gathered this morning outside a Chantilly, Va., automobile dealership owned by Geoffrey Pohanka, a NADA board member who’s an outspoken critic of mainstream climate science.

Holding signs that read “Wrong way on clean cars,” the protesters with Environment America surrounded Pohanka Chevrolet and chanted, “What do we want? Clean cars. When do we want it? Now.”

E&E News reported yesterday that EPA was considering using Pohanka Chevrolet as a setting for Pruitt’s announcement on automobile standards (Climatewire, April 2).

Some sources suggested that EPA held today’s announcement at headquarters after Chevrolet, a division of General Motors Co., said it didn’t want to be associated with the rollback of climate regulations.

EPA didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment about the venue. A Chevrolet spokesman declined to comment.

The protest was aimed at Pruitt, not Pohanka, said Andrea McGimsey, global warming director for Environment America.

“Pruitt was what was driving us,” McGimsey said. “Even if they do this behind closed doors, Secretary Pruitt works for the American people, and we will be out on the public streets of our nation’s capital protesting his rollback of the nation’s best climate program.”

Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said he hoped the protest still put the focus on Pohanka.

“I think it casts the spotlight where it should be, on a car dealership that epitomizes the industry’s opposition to clean air and climate controls,” O’Donnell said. “If there is a ground zero for the car dealerships’ opposition, it’s at Pohanka.”

A spokeswoman for Pohanka Automotive Group didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Democrats call for probe

Six Senate Democrats sent a letter to Pruitt today asking for an explanation of his decision to revise the fuel economy rules.

Led by Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, the lawmakers raised concern that Pruitt had bent to the wishes of industry at the expense of public health and the environment.

“These weakened fuel economy emissions standards will force Americans to forgo many of the benefits of the originally agreed upon standards: consumers will pay more at the pump, the United States will import more oil and the country will emit more greenhouse gases,” they wrote. “You are also leaving automakers and consumers exposed to a potential regulatory patchwork of contradictory rules.”

Also signing the letter: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Michael Bennet of Colorado.