New EPA Chief Promises Tougher Vehicle Rules by Summer
With environmental regulations being a cornerstone of the Biden-Harris platform, the administration’s newly installed Environmental Protection Agency head has signaled that changes are coming over the summer. However, before that can take place, Administrator Michael Regan said wants to make some big changes within the agency that he believes will bring it back to the way it operated before being restructured by the Trump administration.
In the meantime, the EPA will be actively revising the previous president’s relaxed fuel economy standard designed to give the industry some flexibility in terms of keeping larger vehicles and traditional powertrains on sale — something we’ve covered repeatedly as it ended up being the proverbial football in the highly political American gas war. Considering Mr. Regan’s history of praising California’s climate response and energy protocols, his allegiances in the conflict should be obvious. However, he has also suggested that the EPA needs to make decisions on what’s feasible, indicating he may not push for extreme measures. Though he has not drawn any lines in the sand when it comes to potential bans of internal combustion vehicles or stringent penalties for power plants and oil refineries.
Regan suggested in a recent interview with Bloomberg News that changes will start being made by July, with some caveats. He believes we have an extremely limited amount of time to create policies that will reverse the conditions of a climate crisis and that the necessary actions need to be equally bold. New carbon taxes, tailpipe restrictions, and even timed bans of certain vehicles are reportedly all on the table. But first, he needs to reshape the EPA into something that suits those goals.
“The secret sauce here is returning back to the agency’s original mission, which is protecting people and natural resources, and creating a welcoming environment that’s focused and centered around scientific integrity, ethics and values,” Regan stated in his interview. “We believe that we will attract some of the talent that left the agency during the previous administration, but we also believe that we will be really attractive to new scientists, new engineers, new legal minds.”
Before anyone gets bent out of shape, the Trump administration similarly overhauled the EPA. Obama-era holdovers found themselves at odds with scaling back regulations, while newer employees claimed regulating bodies had become too stringent and were strangling the economy, obliterating jobs, reducing consumer choices, and hamstringing industries while offering few tangible gains in terms of air quality. One of the biggest sticking points was a report, penned by the Obama administration, suggesting that the United States’ Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements already decided upon were likely untenable. However, the response involved loosening environmental restrictions and stripping California of its ability to set its own limits as the whole thing devolved into partisan bickering — something we don’t anticipate abating anytime soon.
Biden’s EPA is currently working on restoring California’s autonomy so it can set whatever environmental restrictions on cars the state’s leadership deem fit. Regan verified the move, going on to state that he would be making environmentally conscious decisions even if the impacted industries cry foul.
“We are heavily engaged with the business community. We are heavily engaged with the labor community,” Regan said. “It’s a false option to choose between economic development and prosperity and environmental protection.”
The EPA also is set within weeks to formally issue its plans for a Trump-era rule that blocked California from setting its own vehicle emissions standards. Regan stressed Tuesday that he’s “a firm believer in the state’s statutory authority to lead, in California being the leader.”
Regan did not rule out future emissions requirements that create a de facto ban on new conventional, gasoline-powered automobiles, like an explicit ban ordered by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“We’re taking a strong look at what the science is urging us to do. We’re looking at where technologies are,” Regan said. “We’re marrying our regulatory policy and what we have the statutory authority to do with where the science directs us and where the markets and technology are.”
While Regan has used a lot of inclusive language, stating that many voices are better at building a consensus, he has also hinted that not everyone will be offered a seat at the table. Last week, he ordered the removal of dozens of members from scientific advisory committees that help the EPA with its research and policy. It’s assumed those positions will be refilled with individuals better aligned with the Biden administration’s goals.
“We need individuals that believe in science, believe in the facts before us and are willing to roll up their sleeves and join the conversation about how this country can tackle climate change and do it in a way where we’re following the science, following the law and not sacrificing our global competitiveness,” Regan said. “Those are the types of individuals that we’re looking for.”
The EPA plans on releasing a myriad of new regulatory targets this month, with Mr. Regan suggesting they’ll be focusing primarily on energy production and automobiles. They’ll have to be pretty aggressive if we’re to meet the Biden plan of having a carbon-pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero carbon across the nation by 2050, however. Expect more news on the matter later this month, with the formal regulatory changes being rolled out this summer.
A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.
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