By on November 1, 2019

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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15 Comments on “Report: Trump Administration Seeks to Soften Fuel Economy Rollback...”

  • avatar

    “We think automakers just want predictable and universal standards they can adhere to through the next few development cycles.’

    I’d say “predictable” is primarily what manufacturers care about. “Universal” is nice but they have to adjust standards all around the world. There was a time when there was California and 49 state standards.

  • avatar

    Current California emission standards allow “service vehicles” to have California emission requirements waived, with such vehicles reverting back to federal standards. This is done by certification from state or county agencies when a new vehicle is ordered, and covers not only government support vehicles, but seems to include ambulances, fire trucks,and federal government agency vehicles.

    I’m uncertain if city vehicles can be exempt, but believe they are; this would include police vehicles, both direct LEO as well as support staff. Perhaps someone from one of the larger cities (L.A., San Francisco, Sacramento) can clarify this for me.

    I’ve done several internet searches, and haven’t found any numbers that show how many exemptions exist. Does anyone here know?

    These numbers could be substantial, and would definitely impact both fuel economy and climate goals California sets for it’s citizens. And, if the number of vehicles is substantial, would it be faster/easier/cheaper to simply eliminate this government waiver to meet emissions requirements (but not fuel economy standards), then going to “one standard for all” for consistency in fuel economy standards?

  • avatar

    While the EPA offer does look a little better, I believe CARB’s ZEV regulation should remain valid–that if any OEM wants to continue selling ICEVs, they should buy ‘credits’ towards the percentage goals from brands that carry a surplus in ZEV sales, especially in California but also in every state that is signed onto that policy where air pollution can and will remain a problem, which means the vast majority of major cities around the country. Some cities in those states are at least openly considering bans on ICEVs in core sections of the city where heavy traffic tends to raise an offensive stench that is unnoticeable to people used to it UNTIL they’ve escaped it for a period.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s like buying credits against all the pollution that blows in to the US from outside its borders. I would not be for that.

      When Mt St Helens blew we got white ash in NM and West TX. And now with the CA fires, or any fires for that matter, it is other locations that are polluting the wide open spaces of the American Southwest. We have particulate dispersion in our atmosphere over El Paso, TX.

      And in Juarez, Old Mexico, they still burn old tires and used motor oil to generate electricity. And winds don’t stop at the border.

      Nope, I would favor Federal Standards over CA standards imposed across the entire nation. Not everybody has the same pollution problems. Federal Standards are good enough for me.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Agree with Lou_BC that the auto makers want predictability in standards especially when they have to plan years ahead. Better would be global standards among the developed nations but that might be too much to ask for in the present political environment. The EPA did come back with a compromise and that is where both the EPA and California need to work from and come up with a compromise otherwise this will be tied up in the courts for years.

    As for buying credit for all the pollution that comes from outside of the US outside pollution can be measured and that should not be used to determine what credits the manufacturers should buy.

    As for Vulpine’s comment it might be that major cities do indeed limit ICE vehicles during peak hours of traffic and this might be a step toward limiting or eventual ban of manufacturer of ICE vehicles but I believe this is years away from happening. EV technology has a ways to go with more portable, longer range, and less expensive batteries and the infrastructure needs to be built up for charging. I don’t object to EVs but I am reluctant to buy one until those issues have been worked out. It is unrealistic to expect a majority of vehicles to be EVs in the next few years this will take more time.

  • avatar

    The two sides are UNABLE to compromise? As a Californian, let me tell you: the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has the same negotiating tactic coined by John F. Kennedy in criticizing the Russians: “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable”. It’s not that CRB can’t compromize, it won’t.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    “the two sides are UNABLE to compromise?”

    Maybe so but if that is what happens then this battle will go to the courts where it will be tied up for years costing taxpayer dollars and accomplishing little if anything. If the EPA has a compromise then California needs to open up a discussion and not take a hardline approach. Not saying this will happen but that is the most effective way to get change for both parties. This is what most people complain about Government gridlock and the ability to come to an agreement on effective solution that benefits the majority.

  • avatar

    Why are average people against clean air and water?

    • 0 avatar

      Because that’s just a fallacy.

      • 0 avatar

        Do you actually believe that anyone is “against clean air and water”, or was this just a particularly lazy strawman argument?

        • 0 avatar

          why would anyone be against the new EPA restrictions? Why would anyone support the current administration loosening up clean water laws?

          • 0 avatar

            There are traces of rocket fuel in the water you’re already drinking. Not to mention traces of SSRIs, cocaine, and woman’s birth control. Where is your green god now?


            You already should be purifying your water. You already should be purifying your air. Nothing the White House or the PRK wants is going to change the need for both right now.

            You want to save the world? Hit the third world with 100 MIRV nuclear warheads.

  • avatar

    I’s assuming that what JD-Shifty meant, is that no matter where on the planet or on the political map you are…..Its hard to argue that there is one single thing more important than “clean air and water”

    Having said that, it boggles the mind of anyone who agrees with the above why anyone would be ok with ANY rollback or backward motion on regulations which deal with same.

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