America's Gas War Begins
Now that the Environmental Protection Agency has officially confirmed its intent to roll back Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, the opposition has kicked things into high gear, mobilizing for the coming battle.
In one corner you have the White House and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seeking lowered emission mandates. They claim the Obama administration created unfeasible fueling regulations, noting that the public regularly opts for less-efficient trucks and SUVs and largely ignores the purchase of electric vehicles. In the other corner you have a handful of Senate Democrats, environmental groups, and a bunch of blue states led by California lawmakers. They all say the preexisting rules are not only feasible, but essential for the good of the nation.
If you’re wondering which side of the highly partisan issue is correct, we’d argue it has almost everything to do with your point of view. Both sides can make a fairly strong case, and will do just that as the battle heats up. Fortunately, this may not end up being a legitimate civil war — if the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is to be believed.
Initially, California said it would never consider CAFE rollbacks and would retain the strict fuel economy mandates solidified in 2011, regardless of what the federal government decided. However, as Pruitt’s announcement drew closer, it began to soften — saying there was room for compromise as long as California could keep its sovereignty. The EPA has not yet established a benchmark for the new rules and CARB chair Mary Nichols has said there is hope in that.
“Reason could prevail,” Nichols said at Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance’s Future of Energy Summit in New York. “There’s a way to get to success, unless your goal is to roll over California and not allow us to have any standards.”
Nichols said she’s willing to adjust California’s existing regulations to make them easier for automakers to comply with, but noted the state will refuse to abandon its overall emissions-reduction goals. However, most of the suggestions involve offering companies more pollution credits (for putting EVs on the road) or encouraging car-sharing models. Nichols also said automakers may not be held responsible for the pollution of power plants that provide energy to electric cars. But there’s been no mention of softening overall targets.
California Governor Jerry Brown is likely to back whatever the CARB comes up with, as they are frequently of one mind. Thus far, the state has only conducted informal talks with officials from the White House, EPA and NHTSA about the future of the fuel economy rules. But those discussions have not been entirely to California’s liking.
“They are not promising to do what we want,” Nichols said. “What they are saying is, ‘We’re going to propose a range of options, and we want you to like one of them.'”
Meanwhile, a half-dozen Senate Democrats have announced their complete opposition to any attempt to scale back fuel efficiency standards. The group criticized automakers for reneging on their earlier commitment to build cleaner cars after agreeing to the Obama-era rules. “And we will block any attempt to rescind California’s waiver. We will fight it if they try to put it in the budget, in any omnibus, or any other must-pass bill,” Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts explained to the press.
Markey is introducing the Gas Money Saved Act, which reaffirms the validity of the previously established fuel economy standards for vehicles of model years 2017 through 2021 and 2022 through 2025. The proposal suggests those targets would be advantageous for cash-strapped consumers and help drive innovation in the industry. Markey and his supporters also claim the act would be beneficial to America’s environmental health and national security — by minimizing the need for imported oil.
While a Republican-led Senate is unlikely to support the Gas Money Saved Act, the Democrats supporting the bill still see value in fighting for their cause and stopping what they see as hypocritical behavior on the part of the auto industry. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island and supporter of the proposed legislation, accused American automakers of “ hiding behind their trade association” to renege on standards they previously agreed to uphold.
“You can’t say on your website that you’re serious about clean energy, clean transportation and climate change, and then work through your trade association to undo a promise you made to the American people,” he said.
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