Commentary

Administration's Revised Fuel Efficiency Proposal Draws Fire

The Trump administration said yesterday that it wants to freeze fuel-efficiency requirements for automobiles and trucks through 2026, putting it directly at odds with California’s standards and climate-control advocates, as well as prevailing sentiment in the auto industry. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao’s and acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler’s joint proposal was published by the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “Make Cars Great Again.” 

“The plan … would roll back a 2012 rule that required automakers to nearly double the fuel economy of passenger vehicles to an average of about 54 miles per gallon by 2025. It would halt requirements that automakers build cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars including hybrids and electric vehicles,” reports Coral Davenport for the New York Times.

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“They left open the possibility of selecting another option entirely — including increasing mile-per-gallon standards by some level between 2021 and 2026 — at the end of a public comment period to last 60 days. The agencies said they expect to issue a final decision this winter.  But the Trump administration made it clear that it believes the Obama administration's 2012 decision to implement aggressive fuel economy regulations hasn't aged well,” write Todd Spangler and Nathan Bomey for the Detroit Free Press and USA Today.

“It was assumed gasoline would be a lot more expensive today than it is and even though gasoline prices have gone up a little bit recently, they’re still at historically low levels,” EPA assistant administrator Bill Wehrum told reporters at a press conference, they report. “That changes driving habits, that changes the kinds of cars and trucks that people want to buy, that changes what is possible in terms of vehicle fuel efficiency.”

“Some automakers have expressed unease about an abrupt freezing of fuel-economy standards and the specter of having to meet different requirements in different states. Industry representatives commended the Trump administration Thursday for putting out multiple options for public comment but stressed that they continue to support fuel-economy increases,” Brady Dennis, Michael Laris and Juliet Eilperin write for the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is preparing to file a lawsuit with 19 other state attorneys general to challenge the proposal unveiled yesterday, Miranda Green reports for The Hill

“With today’s release of the Administration’s proposals, it’s time for substantive negotiations to begin,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says in a statement. “We urge California and the federal government to find a common-sense solution that sets continued increases in vehicle efficiency standards while also meeting the needs of America’s drivers.” 

“The auto industry is leery of any proposal that stops progress toward better fuel economy for fear of a public backlash, even though it views the current rules as too stringent,” point out Timothy Puko and Alejandro Lazo for the Wall Street Journal

“Given the number of states that follow California’s lead, mostly in the Northeast and Northwest, car makers say they fear the Trump administration’s aggressive rollback of fuel-economy standards will force states to go their own ways. They want to avoid a patchwork of regulations and the costly variations in vehicle design that could create,” they add.

As you would expect, “environmental groups who support the gas mileage standards, consumer advocacy groups, and medical associations that aim to reduce air pollution slammed the proposal,” reports Stephanie Ebbs for ABC News.

The Union of Concerned Scientists features an article titled “8 Ridiculous Things in the Trump Rollback of Clean Car Standards (And 1 Thing They Get Right),” for example.

So what exactly in the proposal is not labeled as an “absurdity,” you ask?

“Surprising to me was that the agencies acknowledge in their analysis that this rollback is bad for the automotive sector. According to their analysis, the industry stands to lose $200-$250 billion in revenue, cut investments in technology by $40 billion, and cut jobs in the automotive sector by 60,000 in 2030,” writes senior vehicles analyst Dave Cooke.

“The Trump administration’s proposal to slam the brakes on America’s successful Clean Car Standards is a massive pileup of bad ideas,” Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp says in a statement. “This proposal will substantially increase pollution and will cost the average American family hundreds of dollars a year extra for gas.”

In the long term, it will also impact profits at U.S. automakers, some maintain.

“Freezing U.S. fuel standards is a gift to China's auto industry,” according to Kate Gordon, a non-resident Fellow at the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy and the author of Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.

“Freezing fuel efficiency standards at this critical juncture, when momentum is picking up and billions of dollars in investments are following suit, would cede the growing EV market to China and create unnecessary regulatory uncertainty for automakers in the United States. The Trump administration should preserve the current standards or risk encouraging American automakers to build the cars of the past in an increasingly electric future,” she writes in a commentary distributed by Reuters.

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