Trump admin to relax rollback — Carper

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2019

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) today indicated that the Trump administration plans to retreat slightly from its aggressive rollback of vehicle fuel efficiency rules.

“I have heard that the Trump administration now plans to finalize a 0.5 percent annual increase in the stringency of the standards,” said Carper, the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, at the confirmation hearing of Andrew Wheeler for EPA administrator.

This marks a less draconian version of the administration’s original proposal to freeze fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels through 2026. Environmentalists had fretted that the original proposal would lead to a dramatic spike in greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption.

Still, the updated proposal would fall far short of President Obama’s vision for increasing the stringency of the standards each year. Along with the Clean Power Plan, the car rules formed a central plank of the Obama administration’s climate agenda.

Carper noted that a 0.5 percent annual increase would be “10 times weaker than the current [Obama-era] rules,” adding, “That’s not a win-win outcome. It’s a lose-lose.”

Carper did not specify how he learned of the administration’s updated plans, which have not been previously reported.

But the Democrat met last month with Deputy Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Rosen, one of the key architects of the car rules rollback (E&E Daily, Dec. 6).

Carper also told reporters he met yesterday with auto industry executives — including those from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — to encourage them to support uniform fuel efficiency standards across all 50 states.

“If the auto industry is serious about a 50-state deal, you’ve got to lobby,” he said, adding, “I did not talk to one auto company that wasn’t on board on a 50-state deal.”

Wheeler was on Capitol Hill this morning for his confirmation hearing, where Democrats on the EPW panel grilled him on a range of regulatory rollbacks at the agency (see related story).

Greens and Democrats remain deeply concerned that the car rules rollback could lead to protracted litigation between the Trump administration and California, which has the statutory authority to set tougher tailpipe emissions standards than the federal government.

Asked what Wheeler could say to alleviate this concern, Carper told reporters the acting EPA chief could make the following declaration: “I’ve said publicly I’m for a 50-state deal. Now I’m determined to make it happen. I’m going to move heaven and earth to make it happen if confirmed.”

Wheeler made no such assurance at the hearing.

He said the Obama administration only wanted corporate average fuel economy standards to lower emissions, while the Trump administration is using the rule to target car affordability and road safety.

“We have multiple goals for the program, multiple policy goals, including saving lives,” Wheeler said, claiming the rule would save 1,000 lives a year by making it cheaper for drivers to buy newer, safer cars.

EPA and the Department of Transportation have joint jurisdiction over the car rules. Asked for comment, EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said in an email, “The Agency — in conjunction with DOT — is working on completing the rule. No final decisions have been made.”

DOT spokesman Andy Post didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporters Nick Sobczyk and Adam Aton contributed.