By Agence France-Presse
US President Donald Trump’s administration announced a proposal on Thursday to roll back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, likely sparking a legal fight with California and other states that favor more aggressive environmental policies.
The tough standards favored by former President Barack Obama “are no longer appropriate and reasonable” beyond 2020, according to the proposal released by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The two agencies will gather public comments and hold hearings before the rule changes can be implemented. The less stringent standards would apply to model years between 2021 and 2026.
Trump’s move concerns a deal originally struck between Obama and many leading automakers in 2011 that envisioned a series of gradual increases through 2025, when average fuel economy would rise to 54.5 miles per gallon (4.3 liters per 100 kilometers).
The proposal would also end a federal waiver to California that allowed the it to enact stricter tailpipe standards, thereby limiting the types of cars that can be sold in the nation’s most populous state. About a dozen other states have followed California’s lead.
The Obama rules were intended to ensure progress made during the Democrat’s presidency would extend beyond it. Automakers over the last decade have employed lighter materials and tweaked vehicle design to boost fuel efficiency, changes that have improved mileage on even the biggest US gas guzzlers.
But the Trump administration has consistently criticized the policy as bad for the car industry.
Administration officials said the Obama rules added $2,340 to the cost of owning a new car and that more Americans have been priced out of the market for new vehicles.
They also said the policy shift would lead to fewer highway deaths by enabling more consumers to afford new vehicles that are safer than those being traded in.
Shifting to a more relaxed standard would have “negligible environmental impacts on air quality,” the agencies said in their proposal.
“More realistic standards will promote a healthy economy by bringing newer, safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles to US roads,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
The proposal also took a swipe at California, accusing the state of focusing “disproportionately” on greenhouse gas emissions at the expense of overall air quality.
Backers of the Obama-era rules dismissed these points, noting that more efficient fuel rules meant consumers would spend less on gasoline, while reducing emissions that cause global warming.
“California will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible,” California Governor Jerry Brown said on Twitter.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the state would “use every legal tool at its disposal” to defend the tougher rules.
Dan Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign dismissed the Trump administration’s arguments as a “parade of concocted horrors.”
“For an administration that is happy to let states set their own rules when it comes to weakening environmental protection, it’s the height of hypocrisy to deny California and a dozen other states their right to protect their people from global warming,” Becker said in a statement.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said much of the criticism was based on “false” news accounts of the proposal.
“What the EPA released was a proposed rule not a final rule,” she told a White House briefing. “We’re simply opening it up for a comment period and make a final decision at the end of that.”
– Automakers seek national standard –
The auto industry, which has often balked at the higher costs associated with the tougher US standards, strongly backs a national standard that could be negotiated between Washington and California. But one fear is a protracted legal fight between the federal government and California and other progressive states.
“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,” said the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
During an earnings conference call last week, General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra repeatedly emphasized the need for a single national standard on fuel economy.
“We are going to remain committed to improving fuel economy, reducing emissions and working toward an all-electric future, but we believe it is in everybody’s best interest to have one national set of requirement that comprehends the new technologies,” she said.
The debate on fuel economy comes amid friction between the Trump administration and the auto industry due to a Commerce Department review of whether to impose steep tariffs on auto imports.
GM and other carmakers have sharply criticized the proposed policy. Trump last week said the tariff plan was on hold after he reached an agreement in principal with European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.