Trade groups lobby committee for weaker standards

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Automakers lobbied House lawmakers during a hearing yesterday for weaker fuel economy standards and more flexible federal oversight.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers have pushed for U.S. EPA to reverse an Obama administration decision to keep a 2022-to-2025 tailpipe rule unchanged.

The Trump administration is also facing tough negotiations with California, which has vowed to maintain strict mandates, no matter what federal agencies do.

“It is not a matter of if we will meet the aspirational goals set by the previous Administration in 2012, but rather, it is simply a matter of when,” alliance President and CEO Mitch Bainwol said in written testimony in front of House Energy and Commerce panel members yesterday.

H.R. 4011, introduced in October by Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), would tweak the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s fuel economy program to smooth the compliance process for automakers.

Environmental groups have called the legislation a rollback that could erase some greenhouse gas emission reductions meant to address climate change.

Bainwol called the Obama EPA’s analysis that automakers could meet the later standards at lower cost than first projected deeply flawed.

He also bashed the agency’s assertion that producers could meet the rules mostly through improvements to the internal combustion engine.

EPA assumed automakers could meet targets by selling fewer than 5 percent zero-emission vehicles. Bainwol told lawmakers he thought a much higher level of electrification would be necessary, citing a study by SAE International, Novation Analytics and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Under EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency has increasingly substituted external science to staff analysis as justification for lowering regulations.

“There are just substantive disagreements,” Bainwol told lawmakers. “They [EPA staff] believe there’s a schedule where electrification doesn’t need to happen. We don’t agree, and looking at the penetration levels, it’s not going to happen.”

Electric vehicles make up less than 1 percent of nationwide sales.

Automakers yesterday also bashed California’s zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which eight other states have signed onto.

John Bozzella, president of Global Automakers, said the ZEV program and the federal fuel economy program clash because one incentivized new electric technologies while the other allowed improvements to advanced gasoline engines.

“The ZEV program produces no incremental nationwide GHG emission benefits despite the high burden placed on vehicle manufacturers,” he said in written testimony.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and 84 members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter to Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao yesterday.

They expressed “serious concern about the Trump administration’s steps to weaken fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks.”

They wrote, “It is troubling that the Trump administration would revisit these standards, considering the uncertainty and anti-competitiveness it signals to industry, and the threat it poses to consumers, public health, and energy security.”

Peters is a co-sponsor of legislation from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), S. 1273, to make tweaks to the fuel economy program. The legislation is similar to the House bill.

EPA has until April 2018 to decide whether to alter the existing Obama standards, which would bring average real-world fleetwide fuel efficiency to around 36 mpg by 2025.

Bill Wehrum, EPA’s air chief, said at an agency event yesterday the review process was well underway. Although he would not say in what direction EPA was leaning, he acknowledged that “hypothetically” EPA could start a new rulemaking process next year to curb the rules.

Reporter Niina Heikkinen contributed.