Trump Administration Presses Plan to Ease Fuel-Economy Standards

Ismael LynchJul 26, 2018

The proposal - presuming it sees the light of day - will be the first shot in what is expected to be a long battle in the US courts.

As part of the effort, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose revoking the Clean Air Act waiver granted to California that has allowed the state to regulate carbon emissions from vehicle tailpipes and force carmakers to sell electric vehicles in the state in higher numbers, according to three people familiar with the plan. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that he is "ready to use every legal tool at our disposal to protect the current vehicle emission standards". Freezing the standards would reduce the average fleet fuel economy standard from a current projected level of 46.8 miles per gallon in 2026 and reduce it to 37 miles per gallon, according to an earlier draft obtained by Democratic Senator Tom Carper.

The proposal is sure to spark a massive fight with California and a dozen other states that have adopted California's emissions rules, which would require average vehicle fuel efficiency to reach around 50 miles per gallon by 2025. He says in the early '70s, California and 12 other states received waivers to set their own emissions standards, and this agreement was updated during the last decade. A number of states and the District of Columbia joined with California in suing the Trump administration this spring as it announced it would reconsider the state's waiver. While an attack on California's clean auto mandate will cause some uncertainty, it's unlikely to derail the influx of electric vehicles poised for release over the next several years by an increasingly long list of automakers that includes Ford, VW and Porsche.

In May, California and a group of 16 other states challenged the Trump administration's decision to reopen strict US vehicle emissions rules for review.

Messages seeking comment from OMB, NHTSA and the EPA were not immediately returned.

The move would also eliminate California's ability to mandate the purchase of electric vehicles, Reuters reported.

An annual report issued this month by the California Air Resources Board found that California already has met its 2020 goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels.

"We don't want to see two different standards for the country", Wheeler said.

Critics of the Obama era plan to increase average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg have called it a thinly disguised effort to force people to adopt more expensive electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, as the average is hard for automakers to achieve with a model line-up of fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

"The big question: Who will the auto companies back?"

Public hearings on the proposals have drawn mainly opponents, including scientists and health officials who say the change would throw out bedrock public-health studies that draw on confidential data on individual patients. Although California argues its rules are not fuel economy standards in word or practice, "they are very much related to fuel economy", Holmstead said.

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