U.S. should have one fuel economy standard — Chao

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2018

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao acknowledged yesterday that a patchwork of fuel economy standards across the country would create headaches for automakers.

“No, it doesn’t make sense at all to have two different standards,” Chao said at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Department of Transportation’s fiscal 2019 budget. “It makes it very difficult for everyone.”

At issue is California’s Clean Air Act waiver that lets the state’s fuel economy standards be more stringent than federal rules. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have signed on to California’s standards, representing about 40 percent of new vehicles sold in the country.

The Trump administration said this month it was re-examining California’s waiver. Any attempt to revoke the waiver would set up a fierce legal clash with California and other states that follow its standards, allowing a patchwork of state rules across the country.

Chao’s remarks came in response to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s questions about the waiver.

“One out of every eight cars in America is bought in California,” the Democrat said. “So it’s my understanding that there has not been much technical discussion between the federal agencies, and none involving the California Air Resources Board.”

She added, “It would be very helpful if you would consult with the California Air Resources Board to make sure that any standard that gets changed meets the general consensus of the law that is in place now.”

Chao said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had met with ARB officials several times to try to hammer out a proposal. ARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols has signaled a willingness to compromise on 2025 standards in exchange for deciding on 2030 targets.

Senators also pressed Chao on President Trump’s infrastructure plan and how to pay for it, in what’s becoming a familiar theme for the DOT chief’s appearances on Capitol Hill (E&E Daily, March 15).

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, said the administration hasn’t provided much help on the pay-for problem.

“While I appreciate the administration has already put forth a plan, it fails to address all of our infrastructure needs and simply offers false hope by promoting tolls and other funding gimmicks that will burden everyday Americans in order to entice private-sector investment,” Reed said.

Separately, subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) offered a defense of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

Under the omnibus spending bill that just passed, TIGER grants would get $1.5 billion, a $1 billion boost over fiscal 2017 levels. The White House had proposed eliminating the program (Greenwire, March 22).

“The tremendous need for this program was once again demonstrated this past year by the fact that the department received 452 applications requesting more than $6 billion in funding for TIGER projects,” Collins said. “You only had $500 million. But I think that shows the demand is there and how popular and flexible this program is.”

Chao responded, “The popularity of the TIGER grants is made known to us very well.”