By on May 29, 2018

Several science advisers for the Environmental Protection Agency claim the agency has ignored its own research in order to rationalize the push to relax corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) targets.

A group within the Science Advisory Board has recommended reviewing the EPA’s justifications for the intended rollbacks, including the agency’s conclusion that Obama-era auto efficiency requirements must be changed because they are too stringent. It’s hoping to take the agency to task and force it to show evidence that upholds is proposal.

While EPA head Scott Pruitt sides with the President and automotive industry by indicating the current standards are too strict, very little scientific research has been cited to support the claim. In fact, the revision seems to hinge mainly on the belief that automakers might not be able to adhere to the standards approved by the Obama administration in its final days. “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,” Pruitt said in April. 

Other reasons given for the EPA’s desire to support the fuel efficiency rollback includes the United States’ preference for larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles, and a plethora of small cars that exist to lower corporate averages but don’t sell at a meaningful volume.

“We ought to endeavor as a country to set standards for lower emissions on cars that people actually want to buy,” Pruitt told Congress. “And what’s happened is we’ve created these arbitrary levels that has put a certain sector of cars in the marketplace that no one is purchasing, which means they stay on older vehicles and defeats the purpose of the rule.”

Despite those claims having at least some truth to them, very little of what the EPA has said on the matter included any references to environmental research. Much of the decision appears to be backed by economic assumptions and a soft spot for the automotive industry. Pruitt later suggested that one way of improving fuel efficiency would be to mandate higher octane gasoline, further raising eyebrows. Many critics claim he’s less concerned with scientific data and more preoccupied with offering aid to corporate interests.

This would all be fine if the organization he works for was called something other than the Environmental Protection Agency, or if there was an abundance of research on offer to help ratify these suggestions. And this is what the coalition from the Science Advisory Board wants to see. It’s requesting a full review of the decision to carefully reassess the existing fueling standards and, according to Bloomberg, a vote on the matter is expected to take place this Thursday.

The group singled out five major actions planned under the Trump administration, and is calling for a closer look into each one. Lack of evidence tops the list of reasons why. Despite the lightning-fast and potentially political-motivated passing of the final Obama-era determination, it was backed by more than a thousand pages of technical assessments and studies. However, the the working group from the Science Advisory Board claims the Trump administration’s decision to replace it was based on far less evidence.

After investigating, the group also said Trump’s EPA didn’t identify or account for the potential effect on greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, or public health and safety when it reopened the matter for review. “These would seem to be logical and necessary areas for scientific and technical assessment,” the group noted.

Additional discrepancies came up in the consistency of some of the research it does have. Last November, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would not classify glider trucks (semis built by pairing a new chassis with refurbished powertrains) as new motor vehicles. As such, they would not be subject to the Clean Air Act. It also cited a study from Tennessee Technological University that concluded pollution from glider trucks was equal to or less than that from modern trucks. The problem is that the study was funded by Fitzgerald Glider Kits and was later disavowed by the university.

That doesn’t necessarily make the EPA’s classification of new trucks with older engines incorrect, but it does call into question the trustworthiness of its data. The EPA already had its own research on glider trucks — which stemmed from lab tests estimating they produced anywhere from 4 to 40 times more nitrogen oxide and at least 50 times more particulate matter than competitors with modern engines. It’s discrepancies like that which has placed the Science Advisory Board on alert.

“This proposed rule is based on claims and assumptions about glider vehicle emissions, safety and cost that could be assessed via rigorous technical analysis, but it appears that EPA has not attempted to undertake relevant analyses,” the working group said in a statement. “Furthermore, there is little mention of effects on public health in the proposed rule.”

Depending on how the board decides to vote, numerous environmental proposals from the last year would come under enhanced scrutiny — including the fueling rollback. The group says it simply wants to ensure the EPA is using the best information possible and is not dependent on potentially biased data coming from industry-backed studies.

“If the [Science Advisory Board] takes this on and does their job fairly, it’s not a trivial event,” said Chet France, a former director of assessment and standards at the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

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73 Comments on “Rebuking the Rollback: Science Advisors Claim EPA Ignoring Its Own Fuel Economy Research...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Cui bono?

  • avatar
    thornmark

    If the EPA relied on research there would be no ethanol mandate.

  • avatar
    RHD

    MPG ratings could be immediately increased by 20% by simply adopting the Imperial gallon.

    Seriously, though, politics and greed once again are trumping best practices and common sense.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Footprint-based CAFE isn’t based on any “environmental science” in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatic

      It was a compromise passed as a sop to US auto manufacturers. They lobbied for it as a way of improving MPG in the types of vehicles people buy.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    More click bait. Sad

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    Increase the tax on diesel and gasoline if the goal is to reduce emissions.

    • 0 avatar
      TwoBelugas

      Why leave natural gas out? Tax that too since it’s the dominant lower emission power generation fuel.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Which emission?

      The new car emission that actually harms people is PM2.5, which port injection motors (almost) don’t emit. The short haired womyn at the EPA then decided that carbon was more important than killing people or not, and gave us direct injection instead.

      • 0 avatar
        Malforus

        This whole thing is about PM2.5 and NOX which have more to do with decrepit diesel engines and no gas engines produced since 1980.

        The whole problem is that “Glider Trucks” are total loopholes and pants on head stupid to exclude.

        See also the massive air pollution problem around LA because of their crappy short-haul hell they have.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      How high would you make the tax?

      Here in PA, we pay 76.7 cents to the state, and 18.4 cents to the Feds in gas tax – that’s 95.1 cents for every gallon.

      PA’s average price today is $3.12, which means 30% of our fuel price is taxes. When gas was over $4/gallon, the F-150 was the best-selling vehicle.

      So just how high should the tax be?

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Who says the EPA was serious?

    And what “Scientific Research”? The 54.5/40 rule is just an arbitrary number, based on less emissions is better than more.

    Except the higher the figure, the more cash from the auto, trucking, tire, oil, aftermarket, etc, industry lobbys.

    The higher the figure, the more fines automakers/consumers would need to pay. Follow the money (AVALANCHE!).

    • 0 avatar
      TwoBelugas

      this part is telling

      “Despite the lightning-fast and potentially political-motivated passing of the final Obama-era determination, it was backed by more than a thousand pages of technical assessments and studies.”

      Anyone who works in any proximity with the government knows how little “a thousand pages” is when it comes to federal level paperwork.

      • 0 avatar
        285exp

        “Despite the lightning-fast and potentially political-motivated passing of the final Obama-era determination, it was backed by more than a thousand pages of technical assessments and studies.”

        They should have left out “potentially”.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    “Global warming is settled science.” – The Kenyan “I’m not a scientist, per se.” – Bill Nye

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Nye has hung out with scientists and reported on their work for his entire working career, so I’m sure he’s learned more than you. As for the “Kenyan” President, I’ll take him over the Russian one.

      • 0 avatar
        Sub-600

        So if an attorney who hung out with surgeons wanted to remove your gallbladder….you know what? Never mind, next time just try breaking the Haldol in half before you post.

        • 0 avatar
          Malforus

          Why don’t you take that Haldol?

          Nox and PM2.5 regulations are more about surface smog and air quality aka People getting breathing problems.

          The whole reason we did the Nox and lower particulate count was because people in areas with lots of shitty diesels get asthma and other respiratory diseases statistically more:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549691/

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Bill Nye is a pseudo-science political activist shill.

      • 0 avatar
        Erikstrawn

        Then what is the standard for someone being “a scientist”? He has an engineering degree, and last I saw, engineering’s rooted pretty firmly in science.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      “I hire only the best people”–Trump

      Taylor Weyenth was hired for the top position in the Office of National Drug Control Policy—didn’t have a masters degree as he said and never showed up to a law firm where he said he worked. “Just didnt’ show” is the quote from a supervising attorney. Was he the best?

      Tom Marino—Picked to lead the office as the nations “drug czar” removed himself because he took over $100K from big pharma while introducing legislation that would have weakened the DEA and made it easier to distribute opioids across the country. You know, the drug that we have a SERIOUS problem with? How is this “the best”?

      Betsy DeVos: Filled top positions in her department with former employees of for-profit colleges that have been investigated? Oh and she’s never worked in or attended a Public School, yet feels the need to say that “all schools” should be labeled as “public schools”. A billionaire attempting to funnel taxpayers money into for profit schools. But that’s being “the best” right?

      George Papadolopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates ring a bell to you? I guess lying to the FBI was doing the best for the country?

      But yea, you’re worried about “The Kenyan”….

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The “glider” rule is just a trucking industry “exemption”, and not based on any science.

    They’re simply brand new trucks sold without the engine/trans, then the aftermarket or user installs a rebuilt or used diesel powertrain.

    They’re banned from (entering) CARB states though.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    You mean the EPA scientists that invite environmental groups to sue the EPA for environmental transgressions so that legal settlement can be used to fund the environmental groups and force emission regulations that can’t get enough votes in congress don’t like this?

    You mean the EPA scientists that said 20 years ago that their climate models predicted with near 100% certainty that we would all be dried up and thirsty from global warming unless we immediately stopped burning all carbon fuels don’t like this?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      our moronic liberal education system produces moronic scientists

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        “our moronic liberal education system produces moronic scientists”

        An a conservative education system would provide what? Thoughts and prayers for your illness.

    • 0 avatar
      TwoBelugas

      You can’t possibly mean a bunch of pencil pushers who live in tightly packed apartment complexes in Crystal City or Silver Spring and take trains and then employer provided shuttles to their cubicle jobs in a satellite EPA office, whose idea of success is climbing another two GS ladders and get that “nice office in annex C” before retiring to Florida, might be out of touch with the rest of the country?

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      That’s a straw man, a ridiculous overexaggeration of the opponent’s case. But a huge portion of the world’s population and land area certainly is dried up and thirsty. It’s called “deserts,” and probably over a billion people live there, on the edge. Over here in the USA, we’ve the only place on Earth that’s been colder than usual- and stormy. been unusually cold and stormy. Blizzards in April. Two thousand-year floods in the same town, in three years?

      It’s called Global Weirding. Weather events become more extreme, from droughts to hurricanes. But overall, it’s warming. The last colder-than average month of global temps was in 1985.

      Snark it all you want, this is real. Maybe you’re too afraid to open your eyes and see it?

      • 0 avatar
        TwoBelugas

        A century ago there weren’t a billion people living in the dried up places, there were only 1.8 billion people total. Today there are like what, almost 8 billion people?

        Overpopulation, thanks partially to advancement in medical care that caused plunging infant mortality rate world wide, has pushed populations to live in areas that were already vulnerable before internal combustion engines became widely used. And it’s not the fault of the US either, the birth rate in the US has been on a maintenance level for many decades now even with the influx of legal and illegal immigrants since the late 60s.

        Perhaps some peoples’ energy for online activism is better used advocating for Planned Parenthood in the countries with the highest birth rates. Feel free to google where they are located.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        “Two thousand-year floods in the same town, in three years?”

        Ellicott City floods all the time. Larry Hogan declaring this weekend a thousand year anything is just another symptom of the 15 second memories that come with the 24 hour cable news cycle.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        Weather always was extreme. You just didin’t have people streaming videos from their cell phones whenever something happens.

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        @ Wheatridger

        Climate history according to people who believe the earth was formed in 1880. It’s not like the scientific community knows the Earth has been warming since the last Ice Age.

        The Church of Climatology is real, and considering their widely held belief that human exhalation is a globe-destroying pollutant, they will make the medieval Catholic Church look like benevolent tyranny. They’ve been trying to take over the world for a while now, and if the US had signed the Paris Accord, they might have succeeded.

        Don’t be a sucker. Giving them control will not eliminate CO2 pollutants or even create the next great clean technology. It will merely allow them to control nearly everything you do based upon the release of ubiquitous atmospheric gases like CO2.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        “..Two 1,000 year-floods in the same town, in three years?…”

        Junk science. The “1,000 year flood” thing doesn’t mean what you think it does.

        Mostly it assigns risk for insurance purposes and rescue responders.

        Simply it means there’s a 0.1% chance of major flooding in any given year/area.

        They eagerly use the “1,000 year event” for dramatic headlines, political purposes or simply sidestepping the fact your town has inferior, 3rd World flood control, live on a flood plane, and or below sea level.

        The point is the world has been on a warming trend, some 7 degrees per century, for the last several centuries.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          The insurance industry is convinced that climate change is real, and getting worse.

          Prior to 2008 annual urban flood claims in Canada averaged $100 million per year. From 2009 to 2017 they averaged over $400 million per year. 2018 has already witnessed a large increase over that, with massive flooding on both coasts. In addition we have experienced a mid-May snow storm in Newfoundland and both a major ice and a wind storm in central Canada in late April/early May.

          The USA has seen an even greater trend.

          The weather patterns/predictions that the insurance company based premiums on are now no longer relevant. What were previously regarded as ‘once per decade’ storms are now happening on a regular basis.

          So climate change is taking money out of your pocket, every time you renew your home insurance.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @Wheatridger – in the past two weeks my town has experienced +29 Celsius (82 F) weather. That is at least 12 Celsius higher than normal. We’ve had thunderstorms this winter along with rain storms. Recently we had thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are usually a mid to late summer event in my region.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          I tend to have a look at the historical weather section when I’m checking the forecast. There’s a day in late December here where, in 1892 or so, the record low was around -43C, followed the next year by a record high of around +13C. I wonder what they were thinking about that crazy variability!

          Looking at today’s, the record low was -5.0C in 1917. The record high of +36.1C occurred two years later. Normal is 21C/9C.

          With only about 140 years of data, we should still get two to three record highs and two to three record lows each year.

  • avatar
    TW5

    The EPA is an agency within the broader framework of a representative republic; therefore, economics, civics, sociology, politics, etc. are all part of the EPA’s policy proposals, whether it is explicitly stated or not. Furthermore, the relevant issue is not the implications of rolling back the standards (the ecological outcome of which would still be better than status quo), rather the legal implications of implementing the augural standards without proper oversight and the economic implications of regulatory overreach.

    Additionally, all of the scientists requesting this review are exhaling CO2, and none of them have a scientific justification for living. Maybe the EPA will make this finding in one of their studies some day. I can see the headlines: Mass Suicides By Scientists After EPA Study Confirms Life Is Bad For The Environment.

    The Science Advisory Board has no point. The EPA could easily publish studies that show rolling back CAFE 2025 will still lead to far better outcomes than exist at present. SAB is wasting our time and money in a self-indulgent attempt to exert control over the automobile industry. Put a bunch of informants in their organization and then appoint a special counsel to investigate them for years until their organization disbands.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    “We ought to endeavor as a country to set standards for lower emissions on cars that people actually want to buy,” Pruitt told Congress.

    – Listen, I despise this man and all he’s stood for, but this is a valid statement. In practice, it would mean aggressively raising MPG standards for light trucks and crossovers. Take away the rules that lessen regulations of bigger vehicle footprints. That means you, F-150 and Tundra owners! As the immortal Tom Magliottzi of Car Talk used to remind us, you can save much more by raising MPG from 20 to 25 than from goosing your Prius from 40 to 60.

    • 0 avatar
      TwoBelugas

      Better kill off all those gross polluters like the WRX that can’t even get 30 on the highway.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        The WRX is a pig, but no surprise. But all “specialty” cars like this would get a fine. Key is “profits”.

        CAFE fines are carefully blueprinted, small enough where automakers/consumers can easily pay them, on already expensive and highly profitable vehicles, but big enough to yield an obscene payday, everyday.

        If 2025 CAFE “targets” are overkill, again no surprise.

        • 0 avatar
          TwoBelugas

          How abut Corollas and gas only Rav4s and Camry’s? They are high enough volume with a significant fleet mix and rebates on the two carsthat the penalties would kill the margins.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            With Ford and FCA (and possibly GM) ditching their most of their small/smaller car lines, increased volume should help Corollas and various similar sized, cheaper cars from offshore based automakers thrive. And some have strong global sales too.

            And why do cheap cars need so many new generations so fast? If I want a new Corolla or RAV4, just repop a “new” 2004 for me and I’m good.

            Either way, the CARB doesn’t care, they’re a “business” too, and they’re not in business to cry over lost cars, caught in the “middle”.

            It could be Ford (and FCA) started down the “caught in the middle” road of phasing out low-profit cars when the Obama EPA announced the 2025 CAFE schedule, CAFE “Footprint”, etc. Now they’re just rolling with the changes, rollbacks or not, regardless.

          • 0 avatar
            TwoBelugas

            “And why do cheap cars need so many new generations so fast? If I want a new Corolla or RAV4, just repop a “new” 2004 for me and I’m good.”

            Reliable, affordable cars for the masses? What are you, some sort of a Nazi?

            /s

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      40mpg to 60mpg is 50% improvement. 20mpg to 25mpg is only 25% improvement.

      Anyway, the fuel saving measures are already baked into the unratified portion of CAFE 2025. Honda CR-V et al will be required to make 35-36mpg by 2025. These vehicles will necessarily be full hybrids or diesels, neither of which move the sales needle.

      If we force Americans to buy cars they don’t currently want, we will be recreating the perverse incentives that created the mess. Forty years ago we forced Americans out of their fullsize American sedans for no particular reason, and their only recourse was fullsize American light-duty trucks. Needless to say this was detrimental to US ecology and the US automobile sector.

      Similar outcomes will result if people are forced from their CR-Vs, Chargers, Tahoes, Jeeps, etc. They will end up in vehicles with the most lax standards.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “40mpg to 60mpg is 50% improvement. 20mpg to 25mpg is only 25% improvement.”

        @TW5: Yes, but his point was this…
        1. If you drive 12000 miles a year @ 20 mpg, and then improve to 25 mpg, you’ll save 120 gallons of fuel.
        2. The same 12000 miles @ 40 mpg, improving to 60 mpg, would only save you 100 gallons.

        So larger savings can actually be had with smaller percentage improvements.

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          @ SCE to AUX

          I should have checked the math, rather than assuming the gap was too large for the consumption formula to overcome. Thanks.

          Fair numbers, Wheat.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          Of course, forcing the new truck buyer into a new Prius instead would save 280 gallons of fuel.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            “Of course, forcing the new truck buyer into a new Prius instead would save 280 gallons of fuel.”

            I’d rather pay 10 dollars per gallon than be forced into a Prius.

          • 0 avatar
            TMA1

            Lou, that kind of talk is going to get you sentenced to California!

            Next you’re going to tell us that you can decide for yourself how much soda you can drink in one sitting!

  • avatar
    vehic1

    wheatridger: +1. This seems to be quite a trumpy site, with many of his typically elderly voter types longing for the “good ol’ days” they see steadily vanishing. More racial diversity, tolerance of others, and concern about the rock we live on – doggone it, they just want everyone to git off their lawn!

    • 0 avatar
      TwoBelugas

      You can always go to Jalopnik if you desire an echo chamber that suits your world view and complain about the lack of even stricter MPG targets than the 2025 ones, in between the crossposts from the Root.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      “…,tolerance of others,…” Someone needs to make a withdrawal at the irony bank.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      You are attempting to manage the automotive industry from the shadows via footprint regulations, and you’re signing a death warrant for many iconic vehicles and powertrains that people love.

      Neo-prohibitionists are as foolhardy as their forefathers. No one throws tolerance parties for them.

      • 0 avatar
        TwoBelugas

        A Miata or FRS/86/BRZ can’t pass CAFE2025. Think about that for a second. There are self-proclaimed “car” people so ignorant of the policies they supposedly support, they are either willing to, or have no idea of the implication oftheir beloved policies that would, throw Miatas and 86s under the bus.

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          @ TwoBelugas

          They aren’t even close. CAFE 2025 will also eliminate the two-door Wrangler as we know it, along with all non-crew-cab pickups. Most body on frame SUVs will be facing extinction. No way the Charger or 300 will survive the cull as-is.

          So many vehicles RIP. Only the 1% will be able to pay for CAFE indulgence to drive them.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Pruitt, what does he know about anything? Just another political demagogue that has risen like scum to the top under the present regime of a bunch of know-nothings. It’s government by old man conservative gossip, nothing to do with any reality. Old wives tales, that’s how they’ll make America great again.

    And there are the usual forum dopes denying everything, because hey gossip beats science, I know cuz I’m smart, my Daddy told me so. Not a hard standard to meet. You issue dumb opinion and defend it as fact, the usual blather of self-satisfied global warming deniers. And if someone objects to your idiocy, then you get all snarly, leap up and down, insult, dredge up fake reports paid for by corporatocracy, and sit down happy in your own poo.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      The habitable world is coming to an end due to fundamental human rights; therefore, the US should regulate according to the policy objectives of unelected supranational institutions.

      This is the highly unscientific hill you’re ready to die on? Very sad. Your Daddy didn’t teach you anything. You’d better hope someone can make an antidote for the Kool-Aid you’ve been drinking.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    Thank you, TTAC, for reminding me why I shouldn’t come here so often.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    This has got to be one of the most confusing articles by TTAC. What scientific, environmental research must be done to know that the Obama EPA standards would cost automakers tons of money in R&D or even sales?

    “very little of what the EPA has said on the matter included any references to environmental research. Much of the decision appears to be backed by economic assumptions and a soft spot for the automotive industry.”

    Well duh. Rolling back the standards has nothing to do with the environment.

    “Lack of evidence tops the list of reasons why. Despite the lightning-fast and potentially political-motivated passing of the final Obama-era determination, it was backed by more than a thousand pages of technical assessments and studies….”

    Absolutely. But these studies were in relation to the envrironment. These studies had little economic motivation.

    Anything can be done with enough money (or loss). I sure don’t trust an environmental study to answer an economic question, nor would I trust an economic study to represent that of an environmental issue.

    The only link here is the consumer. As a libertarian, let the consumer dictate what is “good” enough for the environment. Putting hamstrung vehicles on the market only keeps old ones out on the road longer.


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