Report: Trump Administration Seeks to Soften Fuel Economy Rollback
One of the issues underpinning the gas war has been an inability for either side to compromise. Initially, it was the current administration complaining about California wanting special treatment. But the coastal state was quick to return fire, claiming that the White House never offered a valid compromise.
Eventually California extended an olive branch by suggesting it would postpone existing fuel economy mandates by one year, while attempting to lock automakers in via written commitments. But federal regulators said a singular national standard was needed, suggesting California had overstepped its authority by trying to rope in manufacturers.
However, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler came back this fall with claims of a revised plan that could actually be more stringent than originally presumed. While still a rollback, the new draft was said to close several loopholes the industry could use to continue their polluting ways. “In some of the out years, we’re actually more restrictive on CO2 emissions than the Obama proposal was,” Wheeler said.
New reports now suggest the EPA’s words are more than just noise.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration is actually planning to require automakers to improve fuel economy and pare tailpipe emissions after 2020. While slight, the improvements are a major change from the original proposal, which aimed at freezing efficiency requirements through 2026. The outlet’s sources said officials have tentatively agreed to the changes.
Officials now plan to require 1.5-percent annual increases in the fleet-wide efficiency of new automobiles. The EPA has indicated other changes could also be incoming, with the final draft looking slightly different than the first rollback proposal from 2018.
One item that will not be changed, however, is a provision to strip California of its ability to set its own vehicle emission standards. Unpopular with California (and about 20 other states), the DOT and EPA see no alternative — believing a national solution to be the only one that will be sustainable.
Bloomberg reported on the vast amount of criticism being thrown at the plan:
While the plan amounts to a less-aggressive rollback, environmental and consumer advocates warned it would still produce negative outcomes. Consumer Reports estimated consumers would spend $3,200 more in fuel costs under the plan than under the current standards for a model year 2026 vehicle, for example.
“A rollback on the scale reported would result in millions of tons of additional carbon pollution in the air and higher costs for drivers at the pump,” Luke Tonachel, director for clean cars and clean fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “This plan is absurd and calling it anything other than a disaster for our climate is ridiculous.”
Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said a federal rule cutting emissions 1.5 [percent] per year isn’t enough for the state to meet its air quality and climate change goals.
“The rumored federal proposal would compromise our ability to meet federal air quality standards and would directly impact public health,” he said in an email.
We think automakers just want predictable and universal standards they can adhere to through the next few development cycles. They’ve been playing both sides to avoid getting the governmental stink eye, but their ability to do so is shrinking as the clock ticks down to the final rollback proposal. Many manufacturers have gone all-in on supporting the measure to revoke California’s fuel waiver.
The rest appears to be a product of bias or an inability to see the bigger picture. Even Consumer Reports’ claims that shoppers would spend more in annual fuel costs was unacceptably narrow in scope. It simply penned the rollback as a “gas tax,” effectively ignoring the taxes paid to stimulate EV sales (by lowering purchasing cost) and present-day consumer trends (buying bigger vehicles). We’ve already ragged on it, if you’re interested in the finer points.
That said, we didn’t know if the original rollback proposal was the best play to make, either. It seemed wholly disinterested in promoting corporate efficiencies, giving the brunt of its attention to the economy instead. However, the changes being made appear to address some of the ecological concerns. A bit of compromise seems wise, even if it’s not going to be enough to make the opposition happy.
[Image: Nithid Memanee/Shutterstock]
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