By on August 20, 2018

Staff at the Environmental Protection Agency had major disagreements over the decision to rollback corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for the coming years, according to documents released last week. The matter echoes an event in May where science advisers for the EPA claimed the agency had ignored its own research in order to rationalize the push to relax fuel targets.

Both items have given ammunition to critics of the new proposal to claim the choice was politically motivated and based upon shoddy, biased research. Interesting, considering that’s exactly what the current administration said about the earlier decision to make them more stringent.

Led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and backed by EPA, the current proposal seeks to keep fuel economy standards at 2020 levels — rather than continuing to elevate them. The arguments made for the move revolved around existing consumer preferences and saving lives. However, some of the agency’s staff seemed to be concerned with the NHTSA’s data and claimed it had overstepped by including the EPA in documents it didn’t approve of. 

In the most glaring example, a paper called the Preliminary Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) was sent to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. EPA staffers wanted the agency’s name removed. “This Preliminary RIA is a work product of DOT and NHTSA, and was not authored by EPA,” wrote staffer William Charmley in an email. “[The] EPA’s name and logo should be removed from the DOT-NHTSA Preliminary Regulatory Impact Analysis document.”

A critical analysis of the proposal also saw the EPA correcting “erroneous and otherwise problematic elements of the model’s logic and algorithms.” However, the Department of Transportation suggested that the agency had been using outdated models and overestimating the future size of the automotive market and how much people would be driving. Ultimately, the DOT and NHTSA got their way and the EPA officially backed the proposal.

Currently in its public-comment period, the proposal is under new scrutiny with the general populace weighing in on the pros and cons. Environmental groups appear to be of one mind, however. The Sierra Club said the agencies “must pull their proposed rule back and focus on strengthening the standards — as the people and facts support — rather than continue with this charade.”

Meanwhile, David Hayes, who served as the Interior Department’s deputy secretary under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, claimed that internal conflict at the EPA could seriously help in California’s legal battle to keep its ability to set its own standards — something the new fueling proposal seeks to undo. “The EPA documents challenging the Administration’s alleged safety rationale for rolling back fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards are devastating from a legal perspective,” he said. “If in fact there was internal warfare, that just provides further grist for litigators.”

Our cursory take, after going over a load of incredibly dry office emails, is that the EPA had serious doubts about the proposal. It also seems to be politically motivated to some degree. But so did the Obama administration’s rush to lock-in the more stringent standards before the changing of the guard. What matters most is if you believe the NHTSA’s claim that keeping the stricter fuel standards would be detrimental to the financial wellbeing of the nation, counter to consumer interest, and potentially risk lives.

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40 Comments on “Fueling the Opposition: EPA Staff Had Serious Reservations About CAFE Rollback Proposal...”

  • avatar

    That is certainly what I believe.

    Seems like we’re at a place where with many drivetrain combos, we have to choose between higher fuel economy and lower emissions. The end result is a compromise that drives like one.

    I’m sure there’ll be a time when the technology will support higher fuel economy while preserving choice and safety and continuing to lower emissions.

    But we’re not there at the moment.

    And little microcars with wretched stop-start that can’t be bypassed is not the answer.

    • 0 avatar

      Not every stop/start car is a microcar–it’s on many much larger rigs such as full-sized pickup trucks or coming soon, despite the rollback. Personally, I agree it’s a waste of time and money whose results run questionably in the 2% to 4% fuel savings range, no matter the size of the vehicle.

      No, the fuel savings needs to come from where the highest demand for power lies–in acceleration. Most certainly we’ve seen engines once too small to even be considered for a family vehicle (much less a pickup truck) now showing greatly improved acceleration numbers, which means they’re accelerating for less time to reach posted speed and dropping to ‘cruise’ revs much sooner, without having to floor the throttle to get there. Turbo has helped, along with other internal efficiency improvements and multi-speed transmissions offering much lower gearing to help move the weight more quickly.

      Better aerodynamics is a factor as well, with too many vehicles not only heavier than ever before but also still remarkably blocky, even if they do have “reasonable” Coefficients of Drag. It doesn’t matter how good that CoD may be if you’re offering 50 square feet of frontal area to the wind or more. If your car or truck stands 7′ wide and 7′ tall, that’s 49 square feet multiplied by that CoD multiplied by your speed to show just how much air you’re actually pushing. Granted, some vehicles offer a ridiculously low CoD. Tesla has one of the lowest CoDs around. But if we assumed that the Tesla, with roughly 18 square feet of frontal area faced against an F-150 with 49 square feet of frontal area, more than double that of the Tesla, you can see where the engine has to push much more air aside to maintain the same speed, meaning it has to work that much harder as your speed increases.

      Today’s designs have improved significantly and much of that is due to those CAFE regulations. Engines today are far more efficient than they were before CAFE was started, and as a result, much more powerful. Every engine type is pushing anywhere from 2x to 4x the power they produced even 30 years ago and most at least 2x that of 15 years ago. The little engine in my ’97 Ranger pushes 112hp while a similarly-sized engine today is pushing over 300 horses in a much bigger vehicle. Sure, it’s boosted with a turbo but the point is that even if I put the time and expense into boosting my little four, it still wouldn’t put out the horses that today’s 2.3T can achieve–or the torque–without risking total destruction.

      • 0 avatar

        I suggest that the USA starts by starting to modify the traffic system, ridding it of street design that creates untold amounts of extra pollution and cost: change the stop sign system to yield and right-of-way.

        To me it’s crazy to see much of the country drive from stop sign to stop sign, especially four-way stop sign intersections are ludicrous. Everyone has to stop…oh how intelligent and efficient!

        • 0 avatar

          Florida traffic engineering is even worse.

          Busy thoroughfare? Build more traffic lights!

          Two-way stop (side road) on a fast four-lane highway, excellent visibility both ways along a perfectly straight main road but a bad wreck a few times a year? Post the highway patrol a mile away and have them run radar because speed killlzzzzzermahgerd. Never mind the inbred nitwits pulling out from the stop sign into the way of an oncoming car. Seems that would be pretty easy revenue generation or better yet, the police presence would encourage the never-ending supply of nitwits to obey the stop sign and, you know, not keep get themselves killed. But no, let’s build another traffic light there too!

          For all I like to dog on California, their use of traffic lights on the freeway onramps is really smart. Onramps make far better parking lots than freeways- keep the freeways moving smoothly. Smooth is efficient! Other overpopulated locales should copy this practice.

          • 0 avatar

            Don’t forget the speed bumps in NIMBY neighborhoods, nothing more wasteful than making cars slow down and re-accelerate just so people who bought homes on busy city streets can feel like they live in Mayberry.

        • 0 avatar

          In 2006 we had a major earthquake that knocked out the power island-wide. From my condo I could see a major intersection; drivers simply treated the intersection as a four-way stop and traffic flowed smoothly all day… until the cops showed to “direct” traffic. Then it backed up like the plumbing.

        • 0 avatar

          @Lockstops, do you mean like this? “$12 million a mile in Seattle for bike lanes”:

          I don’t think you do, I found that article amusing and frustrating at the same time, in the city I’m closest to, the bike lane stuff is ridiculous and even if I was a bike rider there is no way in hell that I’d ride down many of the places where they have “built out” the bike-lane markings.

          Also, if the EPA and the current administration are all about shaking up things, now that the US is supposedly the #1 oil producer, why in the hell are we still playing the ethanol game?

          Special interests seem to be everywhere.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, when a target is so stringent that no non-hybrid vehicles in production, including the cheating VW TDIs, can pass, one might consider the target wasn’t scientifically based.

      I don’t think any of the public, heck, politicians who support CAFE2025 actually read it. Politicians who tout the 2025 standard as “reasonable” are just spewing the automotive version of “the shoulder thing that goes up”.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with TwoBelugas: there is a big picture. Which pathetic, power-hungry, cultist and sadistic bureaucrats don’t even want to see and wouldn’t be capable of seeing anyway.

        Strict regulations give power to bureaucrats, making them the gatekeepers, which opens up opportunities for their personal profiteering through corruption. Strict regulations kill entrepreneurism and are a barrier to entry for small or new companies (unless the business model is highly based on profiteering from government ‘environmental’ subsidies).

        When things get ridiculous, adding immense cost on vehicles (not just when new, also on maintenance and lifespan) then that cost is investment taken away from elsewhere, and money taken away from the country’s wealth. Also, extremism is bad. I don’t know about other people but I’d like to live my life enjoyably.

        • 0 avatar

          To be clear I am not against fuel efficiency. I think the previous gradual increase in CAFE targets over time have motivated many good innovations in engine and drivetrain tech. However the problem with the 2025 one is that it (1) doubles the requirement in a ridiculously short time period and (2) most importantly the target is not realistic unless one is in favor of phasing out affordable ICE cars altogether.

          The proponents of the 2025 even among auto “enthusiasts” like to denounce anyone not in favor of CAFE2025 as “anti-progress” and “model-T faithfuls”. When asked how the 52+mpg for midsize ICE cars can be reached though, they will plead ignorance since they are not automotive engineers and “we made so much progress and the next innovation is just right around the corner”.

          And Lockstops made a critical point about the gatekeepers. I wonder who benefits the most from CAFE credits, the public, or billionaires and their “associates” in DC?

          • 0 avatar

            Now before anyone cries foul that the CAFE 2025 is CAFE MPG and not window sticker MPG, here is an article that explains how it will work


            Notice how a Fiesta SFE with 29/40 sticker MPG has 44.6 CAFE MPG, and it will need to have 50.8 CAFE MPG by 2021 and 61.1 CAFE MPG by 2025? How reasonable is a regulation when a Fiesta SFE will fail starting in 2021?

          • 0 avatar

            I live in Europe where I’m accustomed to very extreme ‘green’ stuff, from the rational to the absurdities.

            I agree that fuel efficiency is a good thing, but as you say the 2025 legislation as well as many other things go into extremism. Whereas in other walks of life we’re not seeing anything near the same progress. The auto industry has been (in part thanks to legislation) a poster child for environmentalism. One day we realised that the whole massive industry was creating massive pollution and already about 35 years later the situation is absolutely and completely different. People try to kill themselves with car exhaust fumes and are unable because their emissions have been cut down to such a low level!

            I think it’s a good time to hold off on pushing in even stricter emissions regulations at horrific cost. It’s just delusional actually. And my main reason is that just having modern automobiles of today’s standards spread and replace older vehicles is cutting down pollution enough in my view, for the short term. In the long term, as technology moves on, we can keep lowering emissions at a realistic pace without destroying the wellbeing of our societies due to extremism.

            Time to focus on other things, other industries (as well as the population explosion issue) in the same way that the auto industry has tackled emissions in the last decades. If other industries and other sources of pollution do even half the job that the auto industry has done, then the improvements will be immense. Multiple times what even halving auto emissions could achieve.

  • avatar

    Sounds like a flurry of studies by bureaucrats, worried they might have to find jobs somewhere else.

    “I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.”
    -Raymond Stantz, PhD

    • 0 avatar


      EPA bureaucrats oppose relaxation of ongoing politically motivated tightening of regulatory targets that have generated untold number of positions and funding, citing politics does not belong in EPA. News at 11.

    • 0 avatar

      Double this – also add lots of CARB jobs that won’t be needed with no special California standards to regulate and enforce. All those solid six-figure EPA and CARB jobs with early retirement and a juicy pensions that are bankrupting the country – we certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to reduce those.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    The staff have no say – since the code and standards were not passed by Congress, the EPA is required to take its lead from the Executive Branch. And just as the prior King told them to increase standards on an arbitrary and capricious basis, the EPA and its staff are required to follow the lead from this President. This is not rocket science. And the EPA has no authority to block changes in regulation simply because they feel almighty and important. Absent Congressional dictate, the EPA dances with the President whether they like it or not.

    • 0 avatar

      This actually reveals fundamental issues within the EPA that must be tackled. We can now see that clearly they have severe organisational issues, and drastic steps need to be taken to restore order to that organisation.

  • avatar

    Keep the MPG requirements where they are today – or even roll them back to 2005 levels.

    Higher Tax Gas Now. Ten cents a gallon now and up it by $0.10 every year for 20 years.

    Problem solved. Bingo.

    • 0 avatar

      Or just eliminate the absurd standard that was just a combination of virtue signaling and wish casting and not raise taxes at all.

      I still don’t know what “problem” needed to be solved. Cars will largely be electric anyway in the coming years.

  • avatar

    None of domestic manufacturers with pickup and SUV reliant product lines have the ability to meet the higher CAFE mandate.

    Explain to the buying public the choice to be made. Enjoy your SUV’s and supersized pickups or have the government legislate you into smaller vehicles with higher costs.

    • 0 avatar

      “…none of the domestic manu…”

      Which of the “offshore” brands have the ability to meet the higher CAFE mandate? About none, right? That’s how nuts the higher mandate was. But to follow through with it would’ve been pure corruption.

      CAFE fines are small enough to pay, yet would’ve meant billions collected annually, nearly a billion from F-series alone, which profits obviously allow.

      So it’s clear Ford has been more concerned with raising average transaction prices than upping average fuel economy.

      It was hardly a tough decision to kill their loser cars,

  • avatar


    add to you last sentance, “and more car fatalities.’

    (smaller cars = more death)

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Fake news.

  • avatar

    Red apple…

    Raise the cost of fuel…. use proceeds to fix roads and bridges…, that’s too logical!

    • 0 avatar

      “Raise the cost of fuel…. use proceeds to fix roads and bridges”

      In california we raised the cost of fuel and vehicle registration. Proceeds go to transportation projects. It remains to be seen how much goes to the high speed rail phase one between Merced and Bakersfield.

      Initial estimates for the SF=LA project (when it was sold to the voters between 2007-2008) was $35,000,000,000 with completion 2020. Most recent estimate is $73,000,000,000 with completion date unknown.

      So don’t be so sure that increased gas and auto registration costs will go to roads and bridges. Usually they are targeted to transportation which includes buses, trains and ferries. Aviation infrastructure fees do not seem to have been diverted yet.

    • 0 avatar

      More like cost of fuel is raised to fix roads and bridges, but then taxes also have to be raised to fix roads and bridges since the money raised by more gas taxes were spent on something else and not roads and bridges.

  • avatar

    99% of the DC bureaucracy has “major reservations” with almost every part of the agenda that was elected by the American people.

    They forget they weren’t elected to any office and are just worthless bureaucrats.

    • 0 avatar

      CARB isn’t fighting for cleaner air, they’re fighting for their very existence. They’re a needless, redundant bureaucracy at this point.

      All of them would take a huge pay cut joining the private sector, squeezing mop and what not.

  • avatar

    I am all for outright prohibition of ICE, once and for all. It is time to get rid of that disgusting thing. American people deserve it.

    In my calculations BEV will take over ICE in a few short years. Ford already understands it and is phasing out cars with ICE and replacing them with BEV. Go BEV go!

    • 0 avatar

      The bigger problem with battery vehicles is where does the power come from? If it’s a coal fired thermal plant 1,000 miles away it can be more efficient from a whole cycle perspective to use an ICE.

      As it stands now, the grid is unable to support a complete replacement of ICE vehicles to electric. It will be very expensive to upgrade the entire power generation, transmission and distribution network.

      • 0 avatar

        @jagboi: “It will be very expensive to upgrade the entire power generation, transmission and distribution network”

        My EV pulls about the same power as a clothes dryer for about 2 hours if I’ve driven it long distance. Less power and less time than that if I’ve done normal 10 miles in a day type driving.

        Upgrades are happening though. A small fleet of trucks from our local municipal electric company showed up recently. It was because of the 4 new McMansions that have sprung up in the neighborhood and I guess they had detected a drop and were increasing capacity. They were also anticipating EVs. Anyway, I got the impression they can detect and respond when an area starts drawing more power.

        A friend of mine recently got a Tesla Powerwall in Vermont through a program with his power company. He’s kind of remote on a back road on a mountain and the thing kept him from losing power this winter due to storms. I talked with my local power guys while they were here about that and they told me that they were already seeing them with Tesla roof installs and were excited about them. I’m thinking about going that route when I have multiple cars to charge at once. That way the surge in power consumption wouldn’t even be seen by my neighborhood.

      • 0 avatar

        It does not matter where it comes from – it is not in my backyard. May be from solar panel farms on Earth orbit? Or from the moon? Elon will come up with something.

    • 0 avatar

      ILO, keep calculating. Kind of sounds like South Africa, where it’s time to start redistribute farm land? American people deserve the choice to buy whatever in the hell they want to.

      Ford is not phasing out ICE cars for BEVs, the BEV noise at Ford is just window-dressing, along with the recent purchase of the decrepit Michigan Station building, hoping they made a “visionary” real estate purchase.

      The Ford family really likes “special dividend” payouts, and Ford is essentially a mutual fund that also sells F-150s.

      This coming from a long-time shareholder who is currently unloading his position.

  • avatar

    Here is my economist’s perspective, which I think is the sensible opinion that nobody will like.

    Polluters use up a public good (clean environment) without being charged for it. So, it makes sense we want to limit car pollution. Pollution is a function of how much you drive, and of car design. So: tax gasoline, and tax cars by how much they pollute. CAFE? No need at all. Let the market solve it, while realizing that a clean environment is also a good that needs to be charged for.

    My proposal: no subsidies for Priuses and similar vehicles. No CAFE at all. Gas tax goes up. Gas guzzlers also pay, either by annual tax or a purchase tax.

    Republicans do not seem to be capable of understanding that the “market” solution, which they equate with charging zero for polluting, makes no sense. Democrats seem to want to regulate and regulate until absurdity is achieved.

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