Trump won’t return to negotiations with California on fuel efficiency rollback, EPA’s Andrew Wheeler says

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2019

HOUSTON — The Trump administration won’t be returning to the negotiating table with California before finalizing a plan to roll back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Monday.

Wheeler, in an interview with the Washington Examiner, said the Trump administration won’t compromise on its final proposal to be introduced early this spring, and will officially move to revoke a cherished waiver granted to California and other states to set tougher fuel efficiency rules.

“At this point, we have to move to finalize,” Wheeler said in the interview on the sidelines of the CERAWeek by IHS Markit energy industry conference in Houston. “We don’t have time to move to reopen [negotiations]. We tried to work with California, but we were just not able to. In California, politics was playing the bigger hand than the policy.”

Wheeler added the EPA, as part of the plan, will revoke California’s waiver to force it to comply with the weaker national rules proposed by the Trump administration, so all states follow the same rules, assuring the plan will be challenged in court.

“In order to have a 50-state solution, we have to take care of the waiver,” Wheeler said. “There probably will be legal action. We can’t stop that from happening. We hope it will be wrapped up rather quickly.”

The EPA, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, last August proposed freezing Obama-era fuel efficiency rules for cars and light trucks, instead of raising them each year, between model years 2020 and 2026.

The agencies also proposed revoking a Clean Air Act waiver that California has, and more than a dozen other states follow, allowing it to impose fuel efficiency rules tougher than the federal one.

The Trump administration argued the tougher Obama rules, meant to combat carbon emissions from transportation, would make newer cars unaffordable, forcing drivers to use older, less safe, and environmentally unfriendly vehicles.

But the administration and California still sought to reach a compromise before being finalized after a public comment period.

The White House, however, broke off negotiations with California on Feb. 21, and has since tried to convince skeptical automakers to back its plan.

Automakers, who prefer flexibility in the Obama rules, not an outright rejection, consider the Trump plan too extreme. Auto groups have said they hope to maintain a common set of rules with year-over-year increases in efficiency that California would agree to follow, allowing automakers to sell the same models in every state, and avoiding the uncertainty of prolonged litigation.

Asked about the automakers’ concerns, Wheeler said there is no room for compromise because California had rejected a Trump administration counteroffer.

“California didn’t really give us a legitimate counteroffer,” Wheeler said. “They promised it after a couple weeks of our proposal, and we waited over 12 weeks before we got an answer. The answer we got really isn’t credible.”

California officials, however, have countered that the Trump administration refused to offer a genuine compromise proposal that respected California’s interest in having tough fuel emission rules to combat climate change, and encourage a transition to electric vehicles.

“We concluded at that point that they were never serious about negotiating, and their public comments about California since then seem to underscore that point,” Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said in a statement last month.