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Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is postponing any changes in fines for auto companies that do not comply with stringent federal fuel-efficiency standards, due to President Donald Trump's order of a freeze in pending federal regulations.

In December, NHTSA had agreed to delay implementation of fine increases pertaining to 2015 model year cars until the 2019 model year. But the agency has since decided to postpone any changes to a congressionally mandated increase in the mileage fine for 60 days.

The agency said the decision was made “in accordance with the memorandum of January 20, 2017, from the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, entitled ‘Regulatory Freeze Pending Review’” in a document that will be posted in the next edition of the federal register on Monday.

“The temporary 60-day delay in effective date is necessary to give department officials the opportunity for further review and consideration of new regulations, consistent with the Assistant to the President’s memorandum of January 20, 2017,” the agency said in the document.

Absent the proposed decrease, the penalty for auto companies that fail to meet the higher emission standards for the designated vehicles was scheduled to increase from $5.50 to $14 for each one-tenth of a mile-per-gallon their average fuel economy falls short. That penalty would be multiplied by the total number of cars in automakers’ fleets sold in that model year.

The new emission standards, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), began to take effect with the 2017 model year, after an initial increase in requirements that ran from 2012-16. They call for ramping up from the current fleet-wide average of about 34 miles per gallon for cars and trucks in 2016 to an eventual goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

The increase, which some automakers have said is too ambitious, starts with a rise to an average of over 35 miles per gallon for the 2017 models already rolling out. The mileage rules call for automakers to achieve a fleetwide average mileage rate of more than 36 miles per gallon for cars and trucks in 2018.

The standard then increases to more than 37 miles per gallon in 2019 and nearly 39 miles per gallon in 2020, which is before automakers will have a chance to weigh in on the need for any course corrections. By 2021, automakers will be required to hit a combined average of 41 miles per gallon for their cars and trucks.

The rules for the model years between 2022 and 2025 were supposed to be subject to a congressionally mandated review. The review was scheduled to take place in 2018, but the Obama administration moved to finalize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s portion of the rules ahead of President Trump’s inauguration.

Automakers have pushed Trump to roll back the requirements in the later years or address inconsistencies between the Department of Transportation rules and concurrent greenhouse gas emission rules being enacted by the EPA.

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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