Feds deny request to extend comment period on mpg rules

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Federal regulators have denied a request from automakers to extend the period that comments can be submitted over a report showing U.S. automakers probably will miss the 54.5 miles-per-gallon fleetwide average for 2025.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the California Air Resources Board denied a request from 16 auto industry and business lobbying groups in Washington that was led by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers Inc. to extend a 60-day comment period over the report on the proposed emission rules that cover the model years between 2022 and 2025. The comment period began ticking down July 18.

The agencies said they will continue to consider relevant new data as it assesses mileage rules, which are scheduled to come up for a review in April 2018. But they will not bow to request from the auto industry to extend the comment period.

The rejection of the request from automakers to extend the comment period on the gas mileage rules comes as automakers have seized on a projection that they will probably miss the 54.5 mpg fleetwide average for 2025. Automakers argue the stringent mileage target should be lowered.

The projection from the EPA and NHTSA stated that automakers may only be able to achieve a fleet-wide average of between 50 and 52.6 mpg by the deadline that was set by the Obama administration in 2012.

Groups that lobby for the auto industry in Washington have argued that lowered mileage projections reflect the fact that customers prefer larger vehicles like SUVs and trucks.

They said the federal agencies should have extended the comment period for the report containing the lowered projection to allow industry members to weigh in on whether the stringent mileage rules should be altered.

The proposed gas mileage rules, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, are beginning to take effect with the 2017 model year. They call for ramping up from the current fleet-wide average of about 34 miles per gallon for cars and trucks that were required in 2016 to the eventual goal of more than 50 mpg by 2025.

Auto companies that do not meet the higher emission standards will be fined $5.50 for each one-tenth of a mile-per-gallon their average fuel economy falls short of the standard for a model year, multiplied by the total volume of vehicles that are in the fleet that fail to meet the new requirements.

Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said the EPA and NHTSA’s decision to deny the request to extend the comment period for the report containing the lowered mileage projections shows federal regulators may be inclined to leave the controversial rules in place.

“It’s clear the government understands the fuel-efficiency challenge automakers will face because of shifting consumer preference toward trucks and SUVs. It’s also clear the government doesn’t care,” he said. “Car companies did an excellent job keeping up with the rising CAFE standards thus far. So good, in fact, that the EPA isn’t going to cut them any slack on the rising standards going forward.”


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing