Wheeler: Rollback of clean car rule has been ‘delayed a little bit’

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2019

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said yesterday that the Trump administration has pushed back the deadline for finalizing its rollback of Obama-era clean car rules.

“We originally had hoped to have it out by the end of March. It looks like it’s going to be delayed a little bit,” Wheeler told 4,000-plus attendees at CERAWeek by IHS Markit, one of the most prominent energy conferences in the world.

He added, “We still hope to get it out later this spring, perhaps early summer, but later this spring is our goal.”

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are proposing to freeze vehicle fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels through 2026, rather than increasing their stringency each year as President Obama had mandated.

The two agencies are also seeking to withdraw California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases, which allows the state to set tougher tailpipe pollution rules than the federal government.

The White House last month announced it was ending negotiations with California over the car rules, portending a lengthy legal battle (Greenwire, Feb. 21).

Wheeler also said at CERAWeek that California was focused on the single policy agenda item of energy efficiency, while the Trump administration is looking at a variety of factors, including public safety. As long as California remained focused on one goal and was pretty inflexible on what it was willing to accept, he suggested, the talks were bound to break down.

In an interview with the conservative Washington Examiner on the sidelines of CERAWeek, Wheeler also stressed that the Trump administration would not be returning to the negotiating table with California.

“At this point, we have to move to finalize,” he said. “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 also confirmed that the Trump administration was still planning to revoke California’s Clean Air Act waiver.

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, which led negotiations for the state, had strong words for Wheeler in response.

“We are not negotiating with them because the Trump administration has clearly demonstrated that they don’t know or care about cars or consumers,” Nichols said in an emailed statement to E&E News. “They just want to keep us hooked on oil.”

She added, “California has been setting emissions standards for cars since 1968, and for greenhouse gases since 2002. It’s time to shatter the mythic status of ‘one national program.’ It’s for the carmakers, not the people. Having the California standard for us and 13 other states means cleaner cars for those that want them. That’s a bedrock principle of this nation: Consumers in different states can get what they want.”

Reporter Edward Klump contributed.