Gas War: States Sue Trump Administration Over Fuel Rollback
Following America’s fueling feud has shown your author that it’s less about finding a reasonable compromise that works for consumers, the automotive industry, and environmental activists, and more about perpetuating ideological wars that now seem to surround every topic filtered through the news media.
Encouraged by industry leaders just days after taking office, President Donald Trump made the fuel economy rollback one of his first initiatives. It wasn’t until March that the softened final draft emerged, however, and it won’t be enough to conclude the almost four-year battle. A collection of 23 states filed suit against the Trump administration’s easing of emissions standards on Wednesday. They argue that the rollback is illegal and based on bunk information.
While we’ve also been suspect of some of the metrics used to make the rollback look more desirable, fueling standards haven’t adhered to reality in some time. The Obama-era standards that would have seen Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rise to 54 mpg by 2025 were deemed unsustainable by that administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but were put into play anyway.
The Trump administration has harped upon this throughout, repeatedly stating that automakers would have extreme difficulty meeting their targets. U.S. customers also have a preference for larger automobiles, placing some efficiency mandates at odds with market realities. Initially, the current administration claimed a rollback would lower the price of new cars dramatically, helping spur the economy. It then started baking-in safety and job claims as ammunition against opponents that we found questionable.
Meanwhile, automakers turned tail and ran from the issue or sided with environmentalists. No corporation in today’s world (with the possible exception of the Dodge division) would openly admit to having an interest in something that might negatively impact the environment, so we faced a constant stream of press releases about manufacturers’ commitment to Mother Earth and a gaggle siding with California in its voluntary fueling agreement.
That left us with a federal government that was largely fixated on the economy and numerous state governments that saw environmental regulation as the only thing that mattered. The industry attempted to play both sides, understanding that there was little to be gained by taking too strong of a stance and keenly aware that global emission rules may make any changes in the United States somewhat pointless. But Trump is a deregulation kind of guy and the fight has to reach its conclusion, lest three years of effort be wasted.
We knew lawsuits were coming, with some already in progress. This year, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) repeatedly petitioned the EPA’s Inspector General to look into the metrics used to rationalized the rollback. California regulators have likewise said they would use every tool at their disposal to keep the state from having to adhere to updated national standards since day one of the gas war. In the interim, California rallied like-minded states, and they are the ones that are now suing the Trump administration.
According to The Wall Street Journal, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra believes one of the core tenants of the rollback isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — suggesting it will ultimately hurt employment rates by discouraging future green-tech jobs and will be a black eye for air quality. “It will increase costs to consumers and allow the emission of dangerous pollutants that directly threaten the health of our families,” he said.
While a state that currently has overwhelming problems with substance abuse, homelessness, and human feces crowding urban sidewalks likely has bigger public health concerns than a fuel rollback that still compromised enough to raise annual auto efficiencies by 1.5 percent per year, Becerra and company aren’t actually leading with the environmental stuff in the lawsuit.
The states argue in their suit that the Trump administration relied on an error-prone analysis that included omissions to justify the rule change, particularly in asserting that the changes would save consumers money over time, according to some of the attorneys general involved. The suit also argues that the rule violates federal requirements to reduce air pollution and increase vehicle efficiency, they said.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the trade group representing the industry in Washington, hasn’t yet seen the lawsuit but will review it, a spokesman said.
Honestly, we don’t know how either side can confidently claim the ability to predict future vehicle pricing. While higher standards could force additional electrification that would probably increase MSRPs, automakers could seek to meet efficiency targets through the sale of lightweight cars using small, cheap internal combustion motors. Some claim that EVs will help offset their higher purchase price via fuel savings, but this first requires one puts a lot of miles beneath their wheels.
That doesn’t assure the current administration a victory. Despite being prone to deregulation, it has lost a disproportionate number of regulatory cases compared to previous administrations. This could be the result of Trump and company being extra eager to undo restrictive rules and taking more action overall, though some claim irrational anger toward the president has influenced judges’ decisions. Of course, there is also evidence to suggest federal regulators haven’t always done their due diligence before taking action.
Who should you trust when it comes to the fuel rollback? Probably no one.
Both sides seem to have decided, even from before the outset, that the end justifies the means. While the Trump administration has been more willing to compromise, we think the EPA went overboard in trying to justify the rollback. Meanwhile, states opposing it have shown themselves unwilling to have it any way but theirs and will weep for the environment while ignoring the economy and consumer choice. Everyone’s playing dirty, cherry-picking data in service of their preferred cause.
At least you get to make up your own mind on this one.
[Image: Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock]
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@Lou_BC--True but at least the HDs don't have turbo charged 6s and trucks don't have cvts but all that could change if CAFE standards get even more stringent. The next generation Tundra will have a turbo 6. In the next few years you might see all the manufacturers replace V8s with turbo 6s in their half ton pickups and eventually you will see more turbo 3s and 4s replace V6s in midsize pickups along with more aluminum, alloy, and plastic body parts to lighten the weight. Trucks have become more of a target for regulators because more buyers are replacing their traditional sedans with crew cab pickups. As trucks become more popular they will become more regulated and will be required to meet more stringent CAFE standards.
Well then maybe you would like an F350 with a turbo 6 and an F150 with a turbo 4. My point is not so much against the turbo 6 in the F150 as it is the gaming of regulations in order to comply by using smaller engines in vehicles not meant to have them which reduces the reliability and life of the vehicles. I am not so much a fan of big displacement engines as I am concerned about the longevity and reliability of a vehicle. Manufacturers can make the vehicles lighter but there is a limit to what manufacturers can do with ICE to squeeze out more efficiency. As for your F350 7.3 that you want that will eventually be replaced with a smaller turbo engine as well. My point is that trucks will be more regulated especially when more buyers are choosing trucks over cars.