EPA Readies Rollback of Fuel Efficiency Regulations

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Rumors are flooding in that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will sign a declaration upending the Obama-era fuel economy regulations any day now. New details have emerged claiming Pruitt plans to visit a Chevrolet dealership in Virginia to publicly condemn the existing 2025 targets as unrealistic. Reportedly scheduled for next Tuesday, the EPA head will be accompanied by groups representing both automakers and car dealers.

California is going to be furious.

According to Reuters, administration officials and several automotive representatives have verified the event as legitimate. However, they noted that the specific revisions to the existing fuel economy standards and emissions limits have yet to be decided. A rollback is guaranteed but nobody seems to have decided by how much.

The EPA mentioned a detailed proposal for the changes could arrive in late May or June, while the Transportation Department is pushing for a tighter timeline. Regardless, an agency spokesperson said Pruitt will autograph something that will open the rules for alteration on April 1st.

Existing rules seek an average fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, something automakers initially agreed to but later expressed concerns over once Donald Trump took office in 2017. Meanwhile, sales-weighted data has shown no meaningful improvement in U.S. average economy for several years. While the onus of that rests with consumers more than it does manufacturers, it pokes holes in the argument that higher regulatory standards will have a positive environmental impact.

That said, softer targets are unlikely to be any different. But the practical increase of fuel efficiency may have had more to do with the economy than President Obama’s regulatory mandates. Signed into law in 2011, the existing fuel rules came at a time when gas prices were higher and the average family income was lower.

Leaving corporate MPG targets at the mercy of the market could be risky, and not just because America could find itself unprepared for a sudden spike in oil prices. California and several other states have said they will adhere to Obama-era rules if national standards are lowered. If the rollback occurs, which is practically a guarantee, the Golden State is likely to take legal action against the federal government.

Pruitt weighed in on California’s fueling stance earlier this month. “California is not the arbiter of these issues,” he said, “[The state] shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be.”

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Apr 01, 2018

    Big Al--You need to reread some of my comments. I never stated that the US should compete in all manufacturing nor do I agree with the President's trade policy. You are using left and right labels against me when in reality I am neither. I am more pragmatic. I thought you were more solid than to revert to calling someone a leftist or right wing. I do believe that the US needs to make something that the World will buy, you cannot survive as a nation if you are just importing and not exporting. You don't have to have perfectly balanced trade but large trade deficits in the long run are harmful to any country. If you think those positions are extreme then that is your problem.

    • See 3 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Apr 03, 2018

      @Big Al: "The problems you have raised is occurring worldwide, it seems many in the US and even on this site consider it an “us against them, winner takes all” mindset. "I have also had my job reduced, outsourced and even a computer take over most of my systems fault finding knowledge. "You must adapt and move on. The problem is many are sitting back expecting others or the government to fix their woes. And in the Western World I would rate the US as one of the worst countries in helping it’s citizens in re-education and welfare." I see you've chosen to ignore the rest of my comment where I clearly stated that I'm in better shape now than I was then. I didn't give up when I lost those jobs; I moved on. My point is that far too many DO give up. They want it all handed to them on a platter (or at the street corner.) The problem is, what support they might have had to get back on their feet is being taken away by our current administration. Said administration is doing everything it can to completely destroy its own political party as a result.

  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Apr 02, 2018

    My $.02. CAFE is, has been, and always will be an incredibly stupid means of influencing consumer behavior. Because ultimately it is forcing manufacturers to make something that their customers do not particularly want. Because while most everyone pays lip service to "better fuel economy", most people don't really care much at all. As has been pointed out, once you get to 30mpg or so it is all majorly diminishing returns. Just another instance of supply-side economics not working. If you want to change consumer behavior, it needs to be done on the demand side. Make people WANT to drive more efficient vehicles. The only effective way I know of to do that is through taxation, either by taxing engine power or taxing fuel. Or taxing/regulating CO2 emissions, which is ultimately the same thing as fuel economy. The Europeans have done this VERY effectively. They have a very healthy auto market where you can buy just about anything you want. And companies can sell just about anything they want. But if you as a consumer want something that uses a lot of fuel, you are going to PAY for it, upfront, annually, and at the gas pump. And in turn, this has given those countries the money to invest in infrastructure such that there is less need for cars. I don't think the US can go to quite the same extreme due to geography if nothing else, but we surely are too far in the other direction IMHO. It makes absolutely zero sense to me to have a consumer tax regime that makes it so that the best selling vehicles on the road are monsterous pickup trucks, but at the same time force manufacturers to somehow make their entire fleet meet a standard that is much higher than what people want to buy can achieve. Of course consumer taxation of sufficient level to change behavior is a non-starter in the US. Finally, California does have a unique problem in the geography of So. Cal. making it an absolute necessity for them to clamp down on smog production. And I think other states have the right to choose to follow that. If you don't like it, vote your local politicians who supported adopting those standards out of office - we are a representative democracy last time I checked. Though for the most part, since the US does not currently regulate CO2 emissions of cars to my knowledge, fuel economy and emissions regulations should be mostly two separate things. Scrap CAFE in favor of demand-side measures, and keep the smog emissions (NoX and hydrocarbons) in place. Demand side measures encouraging fuel economy take care of CO2, because they are two sides of the same coin anyway.

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    • DenverMike DenverMike on Apr 04, 2018

      @Vulpine Yep it's official. You're insane. Nothing doubled in price in '84.. click on the other page, there's more. Inflation hit everything equal, but my dad bought a new Nissan Hard Body in '89 for just under $6,000 base manual with the better bumper and A/C included. Off the rails much?

  • Mike Audi has been using a3 a4 a5 a6 a7 a8 for a long time and i think it makes sense. But, they are rumored to be changing it all again within a year ir two.
  • Golden2husky Match the tool to the job. This would be ideal for those who have dreadful, traffic filled commutes. I'd certainly go the SE route - wheel sizes are beyond bordering on dumb today and 17s are plenty. Plus the added mileage is a real advantage. I would have been able to commute to work with very little gas usage. The prior Prius' were dreadful to drive - I gave mine back to the fleet guy at work for something else - but this seems like they hit their mark. Now, about that steering wheel and dash design...No mention of the driving aids for improving mileage but I'll assume they are very much like they were in earlier models - which is to say superb. A bit of constructive criticism - on a vehicle like this the reviewer should really get into such systems as mileage is the reason for this car. Just like I would expect to see performance systems such as launch control, etc to be commented on for performance models.
  • Arthur Dailey Rootes Motors actually had a car assembly facility in Scarborough ( a suburb in the east end of Toronto), during the 1950's and early 1960s. It was on the south-west corner of Warden and Eglinton located at 1921 Eglinton Avenue East. The building still exists and you can still see it on Google maps. That part of Scarboro was known as the Golden Mile and also had the Headquarters for VW Canada, and the GM van plant.Also at 2689 Steeles Avenue West in Toronto (the south east corner of Steeles and Petrolia) is what is still shown on Google Maps as 'The Lada Building'. It still has large Lada signs and the Lada logo on the east and west facades of the building. You can see these if you go to the street view. Not sure how much longer they will be there as the building just went up for sale this month. In Canada as well as Ladas and Skodas we also got Dacias. But not Yugos. Canada also got a great many British vehicles until the US-Canada trade pact due to Commonwealth connections. Due to different market demands, Canadians purchased per capita more standards and smaller cars including hatches. Stripped versions, generally small hatchbacks, with manual transmission, windows, door locks and no A/C were known as 'Quebec specials' as our Francophone population had almost European preferences in vehicles. As noted in previous posts, for decades Canadian Pontiacs were actually Chevs with Pontiac bodies and brightwork. This made them comparatively less expensive and therefore Pontiac sold better per capita in Canada than in the USA.
  • Ajla As a single vehicle household with access to an available 120v plug a PHEV works about perfectly. My driving is either under 40 miles or over 275 miles. The annual insurance difference between two car (a $20K ev and $20K ICE) and single car ($40K PHEV) would equal about 8 years of Prius Prime oil changes.
  • Ronin Let's see the actuals first, then we can decide using science.What has been the effect of auto pollution levels since the 70s when pollution control devices were first introduced? Since the 80s when they were increased?How much has auto pollution specifically been reduced since the introduction of hybrid vehicles? Of e-vehicles?We should well be able to measure the benefits by now, by category of engine. We shouldn't have to continue to just guess the benefits. And if we can't specifically and in detail measure the benefits by now, it should make a rational person wonder if there really are any real world benefits.