by Brady Dennis, Michael Laris and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post news story
The Trump administration on Thursday announced plans to freeze fuel efficiency requirements for the nation’s cars and trucks through 2026 — a massive regulatory rollback likely to spur a legal battle with California and other states, as well as create potential upheaval in the nation’s automotive market.
The proposal represents an abrupt reversal of the findings that the government reached under President Obama, when regulators argued that requiring more fuel efficient vehicles would improve public health, combat climate change and save consumers money without compromising safety.
Trump’s plan also undercuts California’s long-standing ability to set its own tailpipe restrictions, most recently in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposal argues that forcing automakers to reach a fleet-wide average of 51.4 miles per gallon by 2025, as the Obama administration required, would make vehicles more expensive and encourage people to stick to driving older, less-safe cars and trucks.The administration estimates that halting more ambitous fuel efficiency targets would save Americans thousands of dollars on every new vehicle purchased and avoid 1,000 road deaths a year.
Public health experts and environmental groups condemned the White House proposal even before its official release, arguing that it overlooks how much money Americans would save at the pump if cars were more efficient and also squanders a chance to cut pollution from the transportation sector, which has become the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions.
“By 2030, the pollution equivalent of this rollback will be like firing up 30 coal power plants,” Paul Cort, an attorney at the advocacy group Earthjustice, said in a statement. “It’s a boon for big oil that ordinary Americans will pay for with their health and their wallets.”
Representatives of the U.S. auto industry praised the administration’s proposal, even as some automakers privately have expressed unease at the prospect of abrupt changes in fuel standards and having to meet different standards in different states.
“Automakers support continued improvements in fuel economy and flexibilities that incentivize advanced technologies while balancing priorities like affordability, safety, jobs, and the environment,” Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement. “We urge California and the federal government to find a common sense solution that sets continued increases in vehicle efficiency standards while also meeting the needs of America’s drivers.”
Trump administration officials have fought for weeks behind the scenes over the details of the how to relax Obama-era standards. Top officials at the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency clashed over whether the White House’s justifications for the new policy can stand up to legal scrutiny.
In one recent internal presentation, part of which was obtained by The Washington Post, officials at the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality warned that the proposal at that point contained “a wide range of errors, use of outdated data, and unsupported assumptions.”
Ultimately, the two agencies published Thursday’s proposal jointly, and acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler publicly defended the proposal during testimony Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.