EPA Leaning Towards Rolling Back Obama-Era Auto Emissions Standards

405 Traffic (Kevork Djansezian / Getty)
Kevork Djansezian / Getty

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tentatively concluded that the agency will roll back future vehicle emissions standards set by the Obama administration.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the EPA drafted a “final determination” that outlines arguments requiring automakers to reduce emissions standards so that automobiles sold by car companies average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

The EPA delivered the draft to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last week; the agency faces an April 1 deadline to determine whether to loosen the auto emissions rules, leave them unchanged, or increase the emissions standards.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, said, “The draft determination has been sent to OMB and is undergoing interagency review. A final determination will be signed by April 1, 2018, consistent with the original timeline.”

Bowman did not discuss the contents of the draft EPA determination memo.

Automakers believe that the Obama-era emissions standards remain far too onerous in an era of low gas prices. Lower fuel prices spurred Americans to purchase less fuel-efficient pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) over electric and hybrid cars, which emit fewer carbon emissions compared to pickup trucks.

Pickup trucks and SUVs make up 60 percent of the American auto market, while electric vehicles amount to only one percent of domestic auto sales.

California received a waiver from the Obama administration to set its own vehicle standards; the Donald Trump administration set a review of future standards, arguing that California should not set nationwide policy on emissions standards.

Mitch Bailwol, the president and chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a comment to the Wall Street Journal that he remains committed to one national emissions standard compared to California’s separate authority to establish emissions standards.

“We can’t comment on a determination we haven’t seen, but remain absolutely convinced that one national program is the preferred policy path,” Bainwol argued.

Bainwol wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, detailing how 96.5 percent of new passenger vehicles cannot comply with the Obama-era 54.5 miles per gallon fuel efficiency standard. The Alliance president added that only some hybrid, plug-in electric, and fuel-cell vehicles, which amount to only 3.5 percent of America’s new passenger vehicles can comply with the rigorous Obama-era emissions standard.

The Alliance for Automakers argued that if the Obama emissions standards were left unchanged, the domestic auto industry could lose up to 1.1 million jobs due to reduced vehicle sales, particularly impacting low-income households.

The Alliance contends that complying with the Obama-era emissions standards would cost $200 billion, eliminate jobs, and raise vehicle prices.

The Alliance of Automobile Automakers represents roughly a dozen automakers, including General Motors, Ford, and Toyota.

GM chief executive Mary Barra met with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao earlier in March.

A GM spokeswoman said that the automaker “reconfirmed our priorities for modernizing fuel economy standards, which is the need for one national set of requirements and the need to comprehend new technology developments like increased shared and autonomous electric vehicles.”

California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown called Trump’s decision to review the Obama-era emissions standards a “gift to polluters” in a letter to Pruitt last year.

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