It's Gonna Be a Showdown: EPA Head Says California Won't Drive U.S. Fuel Regulations

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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it s gonna be a showdown epa head says california won t drive u s fuel regulations

The Trump administration’s chief environmental regulator claims the Environmental Protection Agency will not pursue stricter fuel economy mandates after 2025. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt also said California won’t call the shots for the rest of the country just because it can set its own rules on emissions.

“California is not the arbiter of these issues,” he said. Currently, California and 16 other states have pledged to maintain Obama-era emission when federal regulators decide to roll them back “but that shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be,” according to Pruitt.

Stick that in your tailpipe, one-third of America.

Officials from California previously said they would consider relaxing their long-term fuel economy strategy if the federal government was willing to set concrete emission targets that extend through 2030. However, in an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, Pruitt expressed that he had absolutely no interest in making deals.

“Being predictive about what’s going to be taking place out in 2030 is really hard,” he said. “I think it creates problems when you do that too aggressively. That’s not something we’re terribly focused on right now.”

There is some truth to that. Despite Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards growing ever stricter, automakers have had bad years where program goals were not met. However, things have been more or less on track since 2014. But that still left some automakers, especially those with lackluster truck lineups, complaining that the rules place too much of the fuel economy burden on passenger cars. In 2011, Volkswagen said “the [CAFE] proposal encourages manufacturers and customers to shift toward larger, less efficient vehicles, defeating the goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

Another truth. Over the last decade consumer interest in trucks, sport utility vehicles, and crossover has skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the sales-weighted average fuel economy for new vehicles has hovered around 25.1 mpg since 2014 and actually took a dive in the last few months as more people decided to purchase larger vehicles.

How much that has to do with California being able to regulate itself is debatable. While stiffer mandates from the Golden State would assuredly affect the national strategy of all automakers, there is also the matter of states’ rights. It’s interesting, considering Pruitt has been an outspoken advocate of small-government conservatism, that he would want to impose federal mandates. But his time at the EPA has also seen him attempt to ease regulatory action, often at the request of corporate interests.

The fuel economy mandates are no different. When President Trump took office, automakers flocked to him to request that he ease fuel economy standards for 2022-2025. Placing Pruitt as the environmental frontman was paramount to achieving that end. Known for his boldness and inability to back down, odds are good that he won’t be discouraged by what California and environmental activists have to say in response to eased regulations.

Things are quickly coming to a head, too. The EPA has until April 1st to establish whether Obama-era CAFE standards for cars and light trucks from 2022 to 2025 are attainable or should be revised. As things stand, the new car and light truck fleet will need to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But Pruitt and Trump (especially) are likely to endorse lowered standards.

“The whole purpose of CAFE standards is to make cars more efficient that people are actually buying,” Pruitt said. “If you just come in and try to drive this to a point where the auto sector in Detroit just makes cars that people don’t want to purchase, then people are staying in older cars, and the emission levels are worse, which defeats the overall purpose of what we’re trying to achieve.”

For the record, maintaining an older vehicle is typically better for the environment than purchasing a new one — even an ultra-efficient model. However, we see what he’s getting at. The general public doesn’t take much of an interest in fuel economy when gas is affordable. But letting economy standards slip is not without hazards of its own. One only needs to look back at the oil shortages of the 1970s for an ugly reminder.

Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said the state will pursue tighter emissions limits after 2025 as a way to protect public health and mitigate climate change regardless of what the federal government decides. That echoes statements made by the group’s chair, Mary Nichols, earlier this year. While she said California wasn’t entirely opposed to modifying the existing fuel limits, the EPA would have to prove its reasoning.

“Absent any such evidence, we will certainly resist any changes,” Nichols said.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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  • Thornmark Thornmark on Mar 15, 2018

    >>The general public doesn’t take much of an interest in fuel economy when gas is affordable. But letting economy standards slip is not without hazards of its own. One only needs to look back at the oil shortages of the 1970s for an ugly reminder.

  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Mar 15, 2018

    I really think it's about time the US seriously considers joining the global community and adopt international standards for vehicle design. I mean, here we have a President (I think) whining no one buys American made cars. And yet you have a US system totally bias towards smaller vehicles. Adopting what the rest of the world does, doesn't mean it's European. I see this response by many of the extreme right people who comment here, the Dump'ettes. Take Australia, we are apart of this system of automotive design that facilitates trade between countries and yet we can choose what we drive. The EU like many other Northern Hemisphere Socialist cultures ie USA/Canuckia, use protectionism as a tool to not trade, then whine when no one wants your sh!t. You see far right wing extremists (and left wing unionists) try looking at the centre. If you want to reach an FE target then price the commodity to adjust demand and make it applicable to all states and set up the law of the land to allow for this. Or, the US will continue on being almost as dysfunctional as the EU. Everyone pushing their agenda. Work as a team America. Man, this America Alone theme is getting boring. Just remove all these bullsh!t trade barriers and get on with it and stop crying like children.

    • See 2 previous
    • DenverMike DenverMike on Mar 15, 2018

      @Big Al from Oz Sorry BAFO, there's never been an "International Standard for vehicle design". If you mean Europe and their influence, what a clusterfuk that's become.

  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.
  • Stuki Moi "How do you take a small crossover and make it better?Slap the AMG badge on it and give it the AMG treatment."No, you don't.In fact, that is specifically what you do NOT do.Huge, frail wheels, and postage stamp sidewalls, do nothing but make overly tall cuvs tramline and judder. And render them even less useful across the few surfaces where they could conceivably have an advantage over more properly dimensioned cars. And: Small cuvs have pitiful enough fuel range as it is, even with more sensible engines.Instead, to make a small CUV better, you 1)make it a lower slung wagon. And only then give it the AMG treatment. AMG'ing, makes sense for the E class. And these days with larger cars, even the C class. For the S class, it never made sense, aside from the sheer aural visceralness of the last NA V8. The E-class is the center of AMG. Even the C-class, rarely touches the M3.Or 2) You give it the Raptor/Baja treatment. Massive, hypersophisticated suspension travel allowing landing meaningful jumps. As well as driving up and down wide enough stairs if desired. That's a kind of driving for which a taller stance, and IFS/IRS, makes sense.Attempting to turn a CUV into some sort of a laptime wonder, makes about as much sense as putting an America's Cup rig atop a ten deck cruiseship.