By on March 31, 2020

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their final version of the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rules on Tuesday. This will establish new targets for corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and emissions standards for passenger vehicles from the 2021-2026 model years and just in the nick of time. The document had to be completed by April 1st, in order to leave sufficient time for the coming model year.

If you’ve been following the long and arduous process that brought us here, you’ll notice the document has changed slightly from previous drafts. The rollback still enacts the straightening of emission regulations but reels them back from the lofty goals set by the Obama administration. Annual increases in fuel efficiency standards will be set at 1.5 percent through 2026. Previous drafts had the Trump administration freezing efficiency requirements at 2020 levels. 

According to the announcement, and EPA head Andrew Wheeler’s own words, the rollback seeks to balance environmentalism with market realities. “Reporting on incomplete information does a genuine disservice to the American people,” Wheeler said in an emoji laden tweet on Monday. “When finalized, the SAFE rule will [increase] US fleet fuel economy, [decrease] air pollution, and make new vehicles more affordable.”

While it was unclear which outlets he was referencing, he later fingered E&E News (an environmental activism/news website) for “misleading Americans with an alternative narrative.” But the initial critiques seem largely negative, if not a bit too swift, for their authors to have possibly read the entire document. The Atlantic immediately came out with a scathing review of the proposal’s presumed impact and the metrics used to qualify the rollback. But that’s hardly new. We also had some niggles with the data the EPA originally used to rationalize its position for the rollback ourselves (especially in regard to vehicle safety), though not enough to view the entire proposal as meritless.

As we’ve noted in the past, one’s general opinion of the SAFE vehicle rules is largely informed by their political/ideological leanings. Advocates seem largely focused on prioritizing existing factory jobs and ensuring Americans have access to the sort of vehicles they already buy en masse in addition to EVs. But opponents say that the rollback risks the environmental well being of the planet and could discourage U.S. advancements in cutting-edge technologies linked to green vehicles.

California and 22 other states plan to challenge the rule. The Golden State has the strictest environmental rules in the country and wants them adopted by others, with many states happy to oblige. It also has taken umbrage with the rollback proposal as it revokes California’s authority to set its own vehicle tailpipe emissions rules. The ensuing legal battles California and supporting states have promised (or already launched) will undoubtedly cause problems for the automotive industry. But with growing emissions fines being the likely alternative, SAFE may still be preferable to a year of uncertainty. COVID-19 has already guaranteed 2020 will be a rough patch anyway.

Likewise, the practical average fuel economy for vehicles has been mostly stagnant since MY 2014. The University of Michigan previously conducted an assessment of the United States’ sales-weighted fuel economy, showing that the practical efficiency of American cars to be more influenced by fuel pricing and the economy than regulatory measures. While the study only ran between 2008 and 2018, we’re doubtful much has changed over the last two years. Large vehicles are still incredibly popular in the United States and EVs aren’t being purchased at a level sufficient to offset that.

There are other factors to consider, however. Those opposing the rollback say it risks putting over a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2026 and increases the amount of money Americans spend on fuel. But advocates insist that customers will still have the choice to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles and that charging automakers billions to adhere to manufacturing less-popular vehicles places unnecessary strain on the economy. If you’re interested in some heavy reading, the 1,975-page final rule document is ready to help you burn through one day of social distancing.

Key benefits the EPA and Department of Transportation would like to highlight include a $200 billion reduction in total costs over the lifetimes of vehicles through MY 2029, $100 billion reductions in regulatory costs, $1,400 reduction of the total consumer cost of ownership per new vehicle, more than $1,000 reduction in sales price per new vehicle, and an estimated 2.7 million additional new vehicles sold. It also makes mention of safety improvements believed to come into effect as a result of the changes (e.g. 3,300 fewer crash fatalities, 46,000 fewer hospitalizations, and 397,000 fewer injuries) but we’re still not sold on how those items are being calculated.

Still, the paper is robust and dives into everything with excruciating detail. It even addresses most of the claims that have been made against the rollback during the public comment phase — including the studies the EPA used to make its determination and the impacts to the environment weighted against economic factors. Due to the vast amount of relevant information, it’ll take us a few days to get through all of it. By then, California and environmental groups will probably have issued a collective response while they begin planning their next counter move.

[Image: Siripatv/Shutterstock]

 

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70 Comments on “Gas War: EPA and DOT Release Final Draft of Fuel Rollback...”


  • avatar
    Hummer

    Should have froze standards at 2010 levels or better yet to 2006 levels, unfortunately I see this needing to be redone in 5 years when they figure out 1.5% a year is still too much based off of consumer driven demand.

    We are in diminishing returns now, high cost changes for low rewards. Outside of NOx emissions the cars are perfectly clean. If instead of focusing on asinine changes to the irrelevant MPG number, we focused on actual pollutants leaving the tail pipe – we could build a better standard. Alas that doesn’t keep bureaucrats employed.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @Hummer: ” Outside of NOx emissions the cars are perfectly clean.”
      — False statement. The emissions of a modern car can still kill in an enclosed environment… and that includes the interior of the car if the exhaust line gets damaged.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        Thats called carbon monoxide. Even on the loony end of the spectrum I have never heard carbon monoxide considered environmentally dangerous.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          It’s quite dangerous should your environment be a closed garage. Then again, so is my grill.

          As much of my power comes from nuclear however, some of the byproducts from charging the leaf are also quite dangerous so I suppose there is no free ride.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Temporary victory for those who don’t believe in climate science, or want less fuel efficiency. Sooner or later a more liberal administration will be elected and the standards will be restored.

  • avatar
    Dan

    More expensive, higher mileage cars are just the thing for a global recession and oil glut.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatic

      Why do you think more fuel efficient will be more expensive? Short term maybe but if US manufacturers are out of step with the rest of the world costs will be higher with the looser standards. Less fuel use is just what we need with the oil glut. Only chance to break OPEC is to drive demand down now while prices are low.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    An agreement that everyone can gripe about probably strikes the right balance.

    1.5% improvements in CAFE for 5 years amounts to 7.7% – not bad.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    California is lying. California can still have more strict rules. What they really want to do is to fiat their standards as the defacto national standards.

    So California, impose all the tough standards you want – good luck in having a product that will sell there should you do that. You are in your right to make things tougher; you are not in your right to impose your rules onto others.

    Now pound sand.

  • avatar
    Zipster

    Hummer:

    Exactly the response one would expect from someone as science challenged and self-obsessed as your own Great Guide. The fact that millions of acres of forest and as many as a billion animals perished in Australia troubles you not one bit.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      “ Exactly the response one would expect from someone as science challenged and self-obsessed as your own Great Guide. The fact that millions of acres of forest and as many as a billion animals perished in Australia troubles you not one bit.”

      I have a masters in the STEM field, how about yourself? I noticed all the Aussie forest fire news quickly disappeared once there was news that several activist were arrested on charges of arson for starting those fires. I am troubled by deranged political activists that are intent on harming others for their cause, not worried about the natural ebb and flow of the climate.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “I have a masters in the STEM field, how about yourself? ”

        $10 you’re an engineer.

        Engineers are *very well* known for thinking they’re experts in everything.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Well I am an expert in something which makes me more qualified to speak on stuff automatically than 90 percent of the posters on this site.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          We’re a special breed I’ve been told.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Regarding the fake news that the Australian bush fires were the result of arsonists, in fact less than 10% of the fires were due to arson. Ironically that erroneous statement was published by a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, an organization often accused of a lack of objectivity.

            And these bush fires have occurred naturally for years. There frequency and intensity have increased in recent years. With some validity this is blamed on climate change.

            I am posting some links. Unfortunately the may not ‘stay’. The lack of user friendliness of this website makes me wonder about its continuing viability.

            https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51125898

            https://www.factcheck.org/2020/01/setting-the-record-straight-on-climate-change-and-arson-in-australias-bushfires/

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Quiet @hummer… apparently the Liberal Arts majors are the only ones with expertise to speak on here lol.

        • 0 avatar

          Especially I love answers on Quora.com by SW engineers claiming that they are “part time physicists”. All they do – copy and paste articles from Wikipedia. Very rarely (actually almost never) real professional physicists answer the questions. It says all you need to know about Quora and its reputation.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        When did it come out that activists were charged? Most of the charges I heard about were due to careless smoking and even more careless camping in areas where open fires where prohibited. When did the activists show up and exactly what were they supposedly protesting?

        • 0 avatar
          bts

          One person charged for starting a fire was a firefighter, wanting to make more work for themselves. And I could see a couple rogue activists starting fires.

          But climate change is real. Ask Australia how its Coral reefs are doing.

          Rolling back economy standards like this is obviously the wrong move. It screws the consumers and the environment.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “The fact that millions of acres of forest and as many as a billion animals perished in Australia troubles you not one bit.”

      I can’t speak for Hummer, but this news doesn’t trouble me one bit.

      It’s ironic that some humans have become obsessed over the last 50 years with ‘protecting nature’, yet all they want to do is prevent it from behaving naturally.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @SCE to AUX: That’s where you’re wrong. What they want is for it to RETURN to “behaving naturally.” It has been behaving “unnaturally” for the last 300 years, ever since the human animal began using coal-powered machines.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    California can set whatever standards it wants. Then, Californians will drive whatever vehicles they want regardless of the cost.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Fragmentation of the auto industry to accommodate for differing pollution standards makes cars more expensive to develop in the same way that it costs more to develop a car for the Americas when it’s engineered for Asian or Euro markets due to the differences in safety standards.

      Same thing occurs in CA for seasonal fuels/blends.

      A CA standard ultimately makes cars more expensive because it’s a variation. Best thing that could be done would be for politicians to stop acting like selfish infants and agree to a nationwide standard for both fuel and emissions the same way we agree on safety standards. And then the world agreeing on a common safety standard for all cars.

      Easier said than done.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Nope. If the feds pull the waiver, California has no power over interstate commerce – and they’ve driven many auto plants out of the state, except for the Tesla plant in Fremont, which built my 1980 Buick Regal.

      Without the waiver, California will be unable to specify it’s own gasoline formula, which raises the price of gas, since shortages from the local refineries can’t be made up by out of state refineries that don’t make that formula. That’s why, with the wholesale price of unleaded down to 62 cent/gallon, there’s a San Diego gas station near me selling unleaded regular for $4.39. In that other city by the bay, it’s even higher.

  • avatar
    bts

    The real reason these standards are being rolled back: because it was originally Obama’s idea. And so the oil companies can make more money and donate to the Trump campaign.

    The automakers actually support higher efficiency standards.

    Rolling back standards will further accelerate the destruction of the environment and health of US citizens.

    The justification for rolling back fuel efficiency is based on falsified data, which has been reported here a few times.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/10/trumps-clean-car-rollback-is-riddled-with-math-errors-clouding-its-legal-future/574249/

    Another fail by the Trump administration.

    • 0 avatar
      285exp

      If the automakers actually support the higher standard, then we don’t need rules requiring it, do we? They’ll just do it on their own.

      • 0 avatar
        bts

        Why bother having a law against murder? Everyone knows it’s wrong, right?

        Then there would be no way to discipline an automaker if another Volkswagen type scandal would happen.

        • 0 avatar
          285exp

          We’re talking about fuel economy standards here, sport, not emissions. If the automakers support the existing fuel economy standards, fine, just because Trump says they don’t have follow them doesn’t mean they can’t. Why not let the automakers decide which strategy they want to use and let the consumers decide who is building the cars they want to buy? If the purchase price isn’t really going to increase that much, and consumers will actually be saving money in the long run due to lower fuel cost, it seems a simple decision.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            The fuel economy standards, when you consider the EPA involvement, are intended as an easy way to control pollutants. Simply put, the less fuel burned, the fewer emissions released.

          • 0 avatar
            285exp

            That does not address to point Vulpine, he says we need these standards to punish automakers like VW, but failing to meet fuel economy standards is not what they were punished for. They got nailed for cheating on non-CO2 emissions to boost their MPG ratings. Setting unrealistic standards will give more incentive to cheat or to game the mpg test to show better lab numbers without actually increasing mpg in real life.

            And the automakers don’t really want those higher standards, they just want to know how much it’s going to cost them when they can’t meet them, and it won’t really cost them anything, because any fines or mpg credits they have to purchase from Tesla are going to be passed on to us.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @285exp: Look again at what you said about Trump’s statement and VW in particular. You simply reiterated my point using a specific example–CAFE is meant to cut emissions, NOT simply increase fuel mileage. And the issue was diesels in particular because it was the nitrogen oxides that were going out of spec, so you’re exactly right that it was non-CO2 emissions.

            As I’ve said many times before, measuring the CO2 is just an indicator of the emissions and not the sole emission they are concerned about. Too many people either can’t, or won’t, understand that.

  • avatar
    Zipster

    Hummer:

    Perhaps some of the Australians who read this site can best respond to your fiction of activist-arsonists. It bears resemblance to Hannity’s claim that the pandemic was a Democratic hoax to subvert your Great Guide. Perhaps you are also an expert on pandemics and you were Hannity’s source of information.

    Nevertheless, when word spread about the pandemic, I am certain that you stocked up with plenty of toilet paper and .223 rounds.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      You sound absolutely ridiculous I hope you understand, you sound desperate. You can look up a plenty of articles from the daily mail and other left wing publications on the arson. If you want to deny that then it’s on you.

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.usatoday.com/amp/2831063001

      I have always had a nice stock of 5.56, plus I have plenty of toilet paper, not that it matters because the grocery store has plenty. The only thing I went out and bought is some weed and feed. It’s a good thing I only keep up 10% of my land with a finish cut – that stuffs expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @Hummer: His point is the simple fact that with a single exception, the “arson” was not intentional anywhere in Australia. Sure, hundreds of people were arrested but not for intentionally setting those fires; rather, they were arrested for ACCIDENTALLY starting those fires.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Yeah I have 5.56 NATO about because I shoot a lot of it. It is a fun round for plinking. I typically have toilet paper around because even in times where the world isn’t afflicted, I wipe my arse. Sadly recent events have taught me that I may be in a minority there.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I have always wanted one of those Japanese style toilets that both washes and dries after you are finished.

        There may just be a ‘run’ on these once this is over.

        As for arson causing the Australian bush fires, as per the link previously posted, this was ‘fake news’ first published by a newspaper owned by the founder of Faux News. Hardly a font of reliable, fact checked, non-biased information.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “…risks putting over a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2026…”

    Soccer Mom: “Oh my god. We’re all gonna’ die.”

    Thinking Person: “A fart in a windstorm.”

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I think the last thing any of us have to worry about now is mpgs and climate change. I am more concerned about ventilators, face masks, and PPE. Not that I am not concerned about climate change but if you die from the coronavirus then you are no longer concerned about climate change or mpgs. The longer this lasts the less people drive and the less vehicles people will buy. California might have cleaner air the longer this lasts and less people which is a greater concern than better mpgs.

    • 0 avatar
      bts

      The fact that the typically lazy and stupid Trump admin is spending so much effort to roll back standards proves they stand to personally benefit by the changes.

      If Trump really cares about the people, he wouldn’t be pushing for fuel economy changes like this.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I am not a fan of the President but I believe now is not the time to push for stricter fuel standards. Would be better to extend the deadline and take care of the current crisis. The longer the coronavirus goes on the more industry and the economy are going to suffer.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Is there ever a good time for nonsense? Screw CA, this isn’t about cleaner air. They know damn well nothing would change.

      Gas guzzlers would sell just the same, with a small, irrelevant fine paid by consumers or automakers.

      Basically the price of Paint Sealer.

      Irrelevant to consumers and automakers, but the fines would still add up to billions in Free Money, that’s per year for the state, and 22 others.

      It’s a simply a cash grab, or would be if CA got its way. How isn’t it racketeering?

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        All you have to do is look at how much California’s air has cleared in the last few weeks to see what California’s CARB regulations are meant to achieve. Removing ICEVs from the roads would have a similarly-major effect on the state’s… and country’s overall pollution levels.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          CARB only wants money. If this was about cleaner air, the fines would be serious, instead of a complete joke.

          All together, it’s still serious money we’re talking about (shear volume).

          But clearly if the fines (per gas guzzler) were serious enough to cause change (it would slow change at best), CA/CARB would get no financial benefit. Zero.

          CA/CARB has all the environmentalists backing it up, but they don’t really understand what they’re fighting for. It’s all about, and only about Free Money for CA/CARB and member states. Absolutely nothing else.

          Follow the corruption.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @DM: The problem with your argument is that California doesn’t get a penny of the money that is collected in other states. Each state adopting CARB rules fines those automakers for each vehicle sold in their state. So no, it’s not a “money grab by CARB”.

            You also forget that the automakers did manufacture cars separately for CARB states. To reduce costs, they mostly built all cars to that standard after a while, though some of the rules which are easily bypassed in non-CARB states have to do with the amount of air entering the engine, which limits the viability and legality of certain high-flow air filters. Aftermarket filters are often labeled as, “Not legal for sale in states adhering to CARB regulation.”

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            That’s not what I said or meant. Although it’s no surprise CA sells the most vehicles.

            Yeah CA still has different standards, and all aftermarket engine (performance/replacement) parts have to be approved/certified by CARB to be emissions compliant (for CA smog checks), even if the parts don’t negatively affect emissions.

            I’m not saying CARB hasn’t done some positive things for CA/US air quality, largely involving diesels, industry, etc. But that was then.

            CARB is completely irrelevant now, and fully redundant to other US and CA similar agencies, and looking for a reason to exist, not to mention funding.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @DM: “CARB is completely irrelevant now, and fully redundant to other US and CA similar agencies, and looking for a reason to exist, not to mention funding.”
            — I don’t agree but you are free to have your own opinion. I personally believe that what CARB has been pushing (100% Zero Emissions Vehicles) would be good for the entire country.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Since that’s not going to happen anytime soon, clearly, or whatever nonsense CA/CARB is proposing, they’ll gladly accept the fines in the meantime.

            It’s likely a (potential) billion dollars a year or more, just for CA.

            CA/CARB I’m sure noticed the mega billions automakers make/gross off their thirstier cars and trucks (just in CA) and are simply looking to get a piece of that “action”.

            It’s a mobster move. Don’t be fooled and soldier their criminal cause.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @DM: Since you make it quite clear that’s just your opinion, feel free to run away with it. Have fun with your fantasies.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            You wanna talk about Fantasyland? What’s 100% Zero Emissions?

            CARB’s motives are the very definition of racketeering. They invent a problem for automakers and of course offer them a solution at a price.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    True the coronavirus has a positive effect on clean air but unfortunately more deaths from the virus and the fear of those of us that live thru it will have a positive effect as well. I would rather have dirtier air. Between California forcing their CARB regulations on the entire country, increase use of ethanol in gasoline, and more turbo 3 engines with CVTs we might have no other alternative but to own and drive EVs but if so carry an extension cord because their will not be enough charging stations. I am not in a hurry to pay 60k for an EV with limited range and little infrastructure to support it. If infrastructure improves, battery technology, and price gets comparable to the average ICE vehicle then I would consider one. I also do not want to have to pay Tesla for the privileged to have access to such functions as self-driving and the other functions that make the Tesla operate. With Tesla disabling many of functions on pre-owned Teslas the next step will be that Tesla owners will have to pay Tesla an annual subscription to have access to those functions. I fear that all the automakers making EVs will follow Tesla. You will own the right to use a Tesla but will have to pay an annual subscription in order to use the functions that make your Tesla run. Thanks but no thanks.

  • avatar
    randyinrocklin

    Wow what an opportunity on this site to take down names of all the liberal elitists and their preaching. To Hummer and Art, fight on!

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) has always been a suboptimal way to accomplish the stated intent of CAFE.

    (War on Drugs level of ineffectiveness.)

  • avatar
    Schurkey

    SAFE does not go NEARLY far enough.

    E-N-D “CAFE”. Permanently.

    Roll back emissions standards to ~1990s levels. In no instance should they be more strict than whatever was in place in 2006. No more DEF for Diesels!

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