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29 August 2017

At Least 15 Major Advocacies Oppose Trump’s EPA on Reevaluation of US MPG Rules


At Least 15 Major Advocacies Oppose Trump’s EPA on Reevaluation of US MPG Rules

Although already settled under the Obama administration, at the request of automakers the Trump administration is re-assessing U.S. passenger vehicle efficiency standards in the face of impassioned arguments by advocacies.

Included in at least 15 national or international advocacies saying decisions previously hashed out over eight years should be left alone are those championing concerns for the environment, human health, consumer interests, business interests, and national security.

In other words, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules for 2022-2025 are being defended by broad interests despite editorials suggesting this is largely an issue of minority interests pushing for electric cars.

SEE ALSO: Consumers Union Tells EPA to Strengthen, Not Lower Emissions Standards

Indeed, groups like the American Lung Association have chronicled their opposition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s reversal of course under Trump-apponted administrator Scott Priutt.

“Today’s unwarranted decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could weaken or delay critical protections against the health impacts of air pollution,” said the American Lung Association in August.

“This is bad news, as it signals that these protections could be weakened,” it subsequently said.

In speaking to auto workers in Ypsilanti, Mich. in March however, President Trump intimated he was behind the review.

“If the standards threatened auto jobs, then common-sense changes could have and should have been made,” Trump said. “We are going to ensure that any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs, your factories. We are going to be fair.”

Representing a dozen automakers, the Auto Alliance and Global Alliance say strict rules will cost them and consumers more money than they are willing to spend.

Despite suggestions that minority voices are pushing for plug-in cars now comprising 1 percent of the market, CAFE rules intended to improve an average 26 mpg on today’s window stickers to possibly high 30s by 2025, do not directly mandate plug-in vehicles.

The state of California and a dozen states patterning their rules on it comprising 35 percent of the U.S. market however are pushing for plug-in and other zero-emission vehicles.

What CAFE will do is force automakers to invest in all sorts of technologies including advanced engines, transmissions, lightening of the vehicles themselves, and some electrification will also inevitably be relied upon.

Automakers have a bag of tricks and their mandated goal is to improve the fleet average of products sold. If, and when they choose to splice in a plug-in hybrid or all-electric car, that does raise the average of their vehicles – including SUVs and pickups Americans have increasingly favored – just like an A-grade student raises the class average among B, C, and D students.

Although efforts were made to harmonize federal rules with California rules so that there would be one effective national standard, if federal law is now tinkered with, this would create the undesirable result of two sets of rules for cars sold in the U.S.

This said, in a long tradition of strenuously contending any legislation that stands to cost them money, most of the automakers doing business in the U.S. oppose rules they once agreed were feasible.

Tesla Model 3 has over half a million reservations and the company has been a goad pushing automakers who’ve previously fought such cost-increasing innovations as mandatory seatbelts, airbags, 5-mph bumpers, catalytic converters and other emission controls.

CAFE rules as they now stand began with negotiation and talks before 2012.

“On January 12, 2017, Administrator Gina McCarthy signed her determination to maintain the current GHG emissions standards for model year (MY) 2022-2025 vehicles,” says the U.S. EPA of the decision made for a clause allowing a “Midterm Review” (MTE) for 2022-2025 in case adjustments were needed. “Her final determination found that automakers are well positioned to meet the standards at lower costs than previously estimated.”

SEE ALSO: EPA Finalizes 2025 Fuel Economy Rules Before Trump Enters Office

No adjustments were needed, said the EPA under the Obama administration, and these were data driven assessments.

“Administrator McCarty’s determination was based on an extensive technical record, created over 8 years of research, review of several hundred published reports, hundreds of stakeholder meetings, and multiple opportunities for the public to provide input.

That MTE was settled as President Obama left office ahead of 2018 deadline early this year in a move intended to lock in the mpg and emission regs that get tighter for passenger cars and trucks each year.

As soon as President Trump assumed office, automotive lobbyists shifted into high gear, petitioned the U.S. EPA to reopen the MTE so as to reconsider the rules, and their wish was granted.

“On March 15, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced that EPA intends to reconsider the final determination, issued on January 12, 2017, that recommended no change to the greenhouse gas standards for light duty vehicles for model years 2022- 2025,” says the EPA. “EPA now announces it will reconsider that determination in coordination with NHTSA.”

Yays versus Nays

In June, Consumers Union which has advocated heavily consuemrs will be served by tougher CAFE rules said almost 90 percent of Americans want better fuel economy. “Coming in as number one, fuel economy was identified by more than a third (35 percent) of consumers as the area with the most room for improvement in their current vehicle – three times greater than horsepower or connectivity and four times greater than vehicle size,” said Consumers Union.

Aligned against tinkering with the rules are advocates which have been in on talks from their inception.

Although CAFE does not mandate electric cars, electrification advocates do see CAFE as helping push along a global process underway.

“President Trump’s push to weaken the highly successful clean car program is deeply unpopular with the general public, consumer groups, businesses and security advocates,” said Roland Hwang, director of the Energy and Transportation Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The administration wants to strip away consumer savings and clean air safeguards for all Americans. In any other administration, there would not be a serious discussion of ceding to the auto industry’s demand to rollback progress on fuel economy.”

Indeed the policy reversal has been dismaying in light of what those wishing to stay the course see as a clear path to settling achievable standards.

The Obama EPA had said in January a small number of electrified vehicles would really be required because “automakers have a wide range of technology pathways available to meet the MY2022-2025 standards, at slightly lower per-vehicle costs than previously predicted.”

“The standards are achievable with very low penetration of strong hybrids, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, consistent with the findings of a comprehensive 2015 National Academy of Sciences study,” said the Obama EPA.

In many ways the Auto Alliance hints electrified cars are a tough sell. “Consumers overwhelmingly choose gas-powered engines over alternative powertrains. One reason may be that gas-powered engines have become more fuel-efficient. Another reason may be that gas prices have declined markedly since mid-2014, and consumer purchases of fuel-efficient vehicles fluctuate with the price of gasoline,” says a position paper.

The move by the U.S. was otherwise in keeping with what is happening in most developing and major nations in which such regulations exist and in which the prospect of clamping down on greenhouse gas emissions has become a rallying cry. To the chagrin of those in the U.S. hoping their efforts to usher along halting gains would continue, the present move is seen as a threat to take a step backwards.

To comprehensively outline positions taken by every group would make for a prohibitively long article. In brief, advocates in favor of staying the course – or even toughening CAFE further – include (with clickable links):

Environmental / health groups:Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, International Council on Clean Transport, NextGen America, League of Conservation Voters, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Environment America, Better World Group, American Lung Association.

Consumer/general groups: Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Center for American Progress.

Business groups: Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), BlueGreen Alliance.

These groups are expected to chime in next week when the EPA holds a public hearing on Sept. 6 in Washington DC.

Murky Proceedings

Where things are currently is the process is underway, and while they’re at it, the prospect of amending 2021 emission and mpg rules is also under consideration, although no determination on that has yet been made.

When asked, the EPA referred to a web page that says what it has to divulge of an administrator determination by Scott Pruitt that advocates fear could deviate from science and fact-based decisions.

Prior to a final “final determination” (as required by the 2012 Final Rule to be completed not later than April 1, 2018), the NRDC’s Hwang observes, the EPA could issue a new “proposed determination.”

Hwang offers it is not clear if this is required, but “it would be good idea process wise” and would come before the likely April, 1 2018 Final Determination.

“The EPA could technically issue a NPRM to revise the MY2022-25 standards anytime, but to be defensible they need to build a record,” said Hwang, “so I would doubt they would want to do this before the NPRM. It’s usually 1-year between NRPM and final rule.”

“Our sense is that EPA and NHSTA will tightly coordinate so likely see their NPRM released simultaneously as a joint rulemaking with EPA (like the 2010 and 2012 rules),” said Hwang who recently posted an editorial on the subject.

Speak Now or Hold Your Peace

As noted in the Federal Register, the next step is next week – Sept. 6 – when the EPA holds a public hearing at the Renaissance Washington DC Downtown Hotel, 999 Ninth Street NW., Washington, DC, 20001 (202–898–9000).

It begins at 9 a.m. and will end “when all parties present who wish to speak have had an opportunity to do so,” says the EPA.

Anyone who wants to speak at the hearing must notify EPA by Aug. 30, 2017 by sending an email to Hearing_Registration-ASD@epa.gov.

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