Trump admin draft proposal would freeze fuel economy

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, April 30, 2018

The Trump administration is considering freezing fuel economy targets at 2020 levels through 2026, a source familiar with the draft plan said.

That would put the federal government on a head-on collision with California and the 12 states that have adopted its rules.

The Golden State has vowed to maintain Obama-era stringency for cars and light trucks, requiring improvements every year until average fuel economy reached 54.5 mpg in 2025. That’s a real world fuel economy of 36 mpg.

The draft plan, first revealed by the Los Angeles Times, has not yet gone to the Office of Management and Budget and could still change.

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are in the process of a joint rulemaking. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided last month the Obama-era targets were too ambitious.

“The Agency is continuing to work with NHTSA to develop a joint proposed rule and is looking forward to the interagency process,” said Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman. She said the Timesreport was “not accurate” but did not comment on the details of the draft.

The proposal does not include language explicitly revoking California’s Clean Air Act waiver, which allows it to set more stringent vehicle benchmarks because of its air pollution problems.

It does, however, argue that California does not have the authority to regulate fuel economy under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which gives that power solely to the Transportation Department.

Some conservatives have used that argument to blast California’s rules. Legal experts say the state has a good case in court.

The draft proposal outlines eight scenarios, the source said. The upper scenario lays out yearly improvements in fuel economy of 2 to 3 percentage points.

The freeze would mean that manufacturers would not have to increase the fuel economy or lower the greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks sold in the U.S. in the years 2020 to 2026. The draft points to the freeze as its “preferred” alternative.

It cites the safety risks of people driving more because they get more miles per gallon and of people driving smaller cars as part of its justification.

The draft proposal, said the source, offers a peek behind the scenes at the heated debate over the rules and California’s role.

“We are not aware of any official proposal,” said Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.

“If enacted, this would harm people’s health, boost greenhouse gas pollution and force drivers to pay more money at the pump for years,” he said. “It would also severely disrupt the U.S. auto industry, compromising its ability to succeed in a highly competitive global market that increasingly values innovative and efficient technologies.”

Yesterday, Pruitt reassured lawmakers he was working with California to avoid two sets of requirements for cars. He said he was not considering revoking the state’s waiver “at present”.

“These standards play an important role in curbing air pollution and improving air quality for my constituents,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, told Pruitt at a hearing this week. “We appreciate your attention to this problem and want to make sure you understood.”

Pruitt responded: “We’re working hard to, with California, to try to find an answer.”