EPA rushes to finish MPG regs before Trump takes office

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving to quickly finalize stringent gas mileage rules that require automakers to produce car and truck fleets averaging more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025 before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions standards that were issued jointly by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation are subject to review by April 2018. But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is proposing that the agency issue a final decision to keep its portions of the regulations in place after taking comments until Dec. 30, 2016.

The auto industry — which has lobbied the incoming Trump administration to roll back the standards — is crying foul. But consumer and environmental groups praised the move.

Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, framed the decision as an effort to provide certainty about regulatory requirements to automakers instead of a move to pre-empt Trump. “The administrator’s judgment is (that) now is not the time to introduce uncertainty by changing the standards,” she told reporters on a conference call.

McCabe added that the rule implemented by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2012 that established the mileage mandate gives the EPA the authority to finalize the reviews before the 2018 deadline that has previously been publicized by regulators and auto industry members.

“April 2018 was a ‘no later than’ set forth in the 2012 rule,” she said. “There’s no required precise date in which the final determination needs to be done.”

The new emission standards began 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 an eventual goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

The increase, which some automakers have said might be too ambitious, starts with a rise to an average of over 35 miles per gallon for the 2017 models that already are being rolled out.

Automakers have been pushing Trump to roll back mandates after he takes office in January.

Ziad Ojakli, Ford Motor Co. group vice president of government and community relations, said Wednesday, “it is deeply disappointing that eleventh-hour politics in a lame-duck administration has short-circuited a data-driven process for developing regulation.

“Ford and the industry stand ready to work with the next administration and Congress to find a way forward,” Ojakli said in a statement. “We remain committed to improving fuel economy for our customers in a way that also preserves consumer choice, vehicle affordability and American jobs.”

General Motors Co. added: “This unexpected action appears to dismiss the many comments and questions raised by automakers regarding the draft technical assessment report issued by EPA earlier this year.

“Among those is the willingness of consumers to purchase the higher cost, advanced technology vehicles in volumes that will be necessary to meet the aggressive increases in the fuel economy requirements in the much lower fuel price environment now expected for the next several years,” the Dearborn company company said.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC said it is deferring comment to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which lobbies for U.S. automakers in Washington.

The auto alliance said Wednesday the EPA’s move is an “extraordinary and premature rush to judgment” that “circumvents the serious analysis necessary to make sure the CAFE/GHG (Greenhouse Gas) standards appropriately balance fuel efficiency, carbon reduction, affordability and employment.”

The auto alliance represents Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, BMW Group, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Car USA.

The emission standards start with a rise to an average of over 35 miles per gallon for 2017 models. 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.

If the rules for model years after 2021 are left in place, the emission standard will increase to about 43 miles per gallon combined for cars and trucks in 2022, before jumping to about 45 miles per gallon in 2023. The final years of the mandate will see a required average of about 47 miles per gallon in 2024, and finally more than 55 miles per gallon for cars and about 40 miles per gallon for trucks in 2025.

Auto companies that do not meet the higher emission standards will be fined $5.50 for each 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 fails to meet the new requirements.

Environmentalists praised the Obama administration for moving to finalize the mileage rules before Trump takes office. “To keep our air clean and our climate safe, we need to put fuel efficiency standards in the fast lane,” Sierra Club Associate Director for Federal Advocacy Andrew Linhardt said in a statement.

Consumer advocates also cheered the Obama administration’s announcement. “Strong fuel economy standards means consumers will have a greater choice of vehicles to meet their family’s needs, while saving money on fuel costs and protecting against future gas price shocks,” Shannon Baker-Branstetter, energy policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in a statement.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing