Triumph or Tragedy? EPA Officially Sides With Automakers on Fuel Economy Rollback

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

It looks as if the United States will find out if softened fuel economy targets will transform the domestic market into a haven for automobiles with exquisite powertrains or an antiquated dinosaur with garbage cars making use of old, pollution-friendly tech.

As predicted, the Environmental Protection Agency officially announced its intent to roll back Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards this week. On Monday, EPA head Scott Pruitt indicated his agency would begin the formal regulatory process with the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to lower the existing MPG rules.

For the most part, Pruitt avoided diving deep into the NHTSA’s past claims of larger vehicles being safer and the manufacturing pitfalls associated with rushing cutting-edge technology to market — two issues we expected to be addressed. Instead, he left the announcement rather basic by stating the Obama-era rules were “not appropriate and should be revised.” The cornerstone of the EPA’s argument is that Americans simply aren’t buying more efficient automobiles, despite their current availability, and automakers have grown concerned with meeting CAFE standards after 2022.

“The Obama administration’s determination was wrong,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Obama’s EPA cut the midterm evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”If you recall, the Obama-era mileage rules were enacted in the midst of his first term but didn’t take effect until the 2017 model year. Practically every major manufacturer, as well as the general public, was on board at a time when gas prices had risen past $4.00 per gallon. As time went on, automakers became increasingly worried that an average cooperate fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 would be impossible. However, just days before Donald Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, the Obama administration concluded the standards through 2025 were still attainable. Many within the Trump administration claimed this was done as an act of political sabotage.

Since 2016, much of the automotive industry lobbied to have the regulatory mandate lessened after 2022. Numerous executives discussed the matter with President Trump directly. Roughly a year ago, he agreed to have the EPA reassess the standards — with most observers expecting a rollback as the likely course of action.

With the rollback now confirmed, the next question is “by how much?” Pruitt said the agency will examine what’s feasible and intends to consult with the Department of Transportation. Regardless of the outcome, most automakers should be pleased. The same cannot be said for environmental groups, however.

In a press release published just days before the EPA’s official decision, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune condemned Pruitt as an enemy of the people.

“These roll-backs from Scott Pruitt mean Americans will pay more at the pump while our air gets dirtier, just so Pruitt can help the corporate lobbyists and polluters who give him favors and marching orders,” Brune said. “Pruitt’s decision to side with Ford and the Auto Alliance rather than the overwhelming majority of Americans who want these clean car standards should come as no surprise as this is an administrator who focuses solely on what’s best for corporate polluters, not the public. But make no mistake, we will continue fighting back to protect these standards and the health of our communities. Scott Pruitt can try and hide from the public in first class, in his soundproof office, or in the homes of corporate lobbyists, but we will be loud and clear in calling for our families and our communities to be protected.”

Meanwhile, California is prepared to wage a legal battle against the federal government over the issue. The state says it will absolutely not adhere to lessened fuel economy mandates. During Monday’s announcement, Pruitt said he is considering whether to continue allowing California to set its own vehicle emissions rules or to revoke the state’s waiver. But it doesn’t look good.

“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” he said. “The EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars.”

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.

More by Matt Posky

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 162 comments
  • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Apr 03, 2018

    So... what are the new numbers?

  • Road_pizza Road_pizza on Apr 04, 2018

    Not going to complain as IMHO Obama raised the fuel economy standard to an unreachable level that would have made pretty much every vehicle a "gas guzzler" resulting in a major windfall of gas guzzler taxes for the Feds. Follow the money, people.

  • Mia Hey there!I recently stumbled upon the Crack Eraser DIY Windshield Repair Kit (check it out here: https://crackeraser.com/collections/diy-windshield-repair-kits) and decided to give it a shot on a small chip in my windshield. I have to say, it worked like a charm! Super easy to use, and it saved me a trip to the professionals. If you're dealing with a similar issue, this kit is definitely worth considering. 😊
  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.
  • 1995_SC Can you still get some of the tax credits under the new program?
  • Analoggrotto HyundaiGenesisKia saw this coming a long time ago and are poised for hybrid and plug-in hybrid segment leadership:[list=1][*] The most extensive range of hybrids[/*][*]Highest hybrid sales proportion over any other model [/*][*]Best YouTube reviews [/*][*]Highest number of consumer reports best picks [/*][*]Class leading ATPs among all hybrid vehicles and PHEVs enjoy segment bearing eATPs[/*][/list=1]While some brands like Toyota have invested and wasted untold fortunes into full range electric lineups HyundaiKiaGenesis has taken the right approach here.
Next