Auto lobby to feds: Pump the brakes on mileage rules

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A group that lobbies for automakers in Washington is pushing new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to reverse a decision by the Obama administration to finalize stringent fuel economy rules that are estimated to add at least $2,000 to the sticker price of a vehicle.

The mileage rules, which require automakers to produce car and truck fleets averaging around 50 miles per gallon by 2025, were finalized by the Obama administration days before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who appointed Pruitt to take over the EPA. Pruitt, who has sued the EPA over climate regulations and has said the climate debate is “far from settled,” was confirmed to take over the agency last week.

The Washington, D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is pushing Pruitt to overturn the Obama administration’s decision now that he has been confirmed, pointing out that the controversial mileage rules were originally set to be reviewed for their feasibility by April 2018.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are arguing that Pruitt should hold the line on the mileage rules because automakers are showing they can keep pace with the new mpg regulations.

Auto Alliance President Mitch Bainwol said in a letter to Pruitt that was released on Wednesday that the Obama administration’s move to finalize the mileage rules ahead of schedule “may be the single most important decision the EPA has made in its history” to the auto industry.

“The alliance requests that the EPA withdraw the Final Determination and resume the midterm evaluation on the original timetable, to remedy the severe procedural and substantive defects that have infected the process to date,” Bainwol wrote to the new EPA chief.

Bainwol added: “EPA and NHTSA committed to a robust midterm evaluation that would take a fresh look at these standards by April 2018. The agencies promised that this very would be collaborative, so the industry could offer the agencies real data to adjust their model-driven forecasts. ... On November 20, 2016, EPA abruptly abrogated these commitments.”

The auto alliance represents Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Car USA. The group has said the EPA has “unnecessarily politicized” the midterm review of the emission standards by moving to finalize the regulations ahead of scheduled.

Sierra Club Associate Director for Federal Advocacy Andrew Linhardt accused automakers on Wednesday of reneging on a deal that they made with the Obama administration when the mileage rules were put in place.

“Auto manufacturers are turning their back on the American people, attempting to backpedal on climate and consumer protections,” he said in a statement. “This is a shift in the wrong direction from 2009, when automakers stood with President Obama and agreed that the fuel efficiency standards were realistic and achievable.”

The new mileage standards, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas, emission rules, began to take effect with the 2017 model year, after an initial increase in requirements that ran from 2012-16. The rules, which were developed jointly by the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 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.

Automakers will face fines of $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 sold under the new regulations.

Pruitt and new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao have both promised to review the Obama administration’s decision to finalize the stringent fuel economy ahead of schedule.

“I think the study that was completed, was finished December 30 and they issued the findings within 14 days,” Pruitt said in his confirmation hearing on Jan. 18. “That time period is something I’m not sure that normally happens as far as the time, the velocity of 14 days, but it merits review and I would review that.”

When Chao was asked a similar question about the mileage rules in a confirmation hearing on Jan. 11, she also said she is looking forward to reviewing the work that has preceded her on the regulations.

“This issue is going to be coming up,” Chao said. “It is going to be an important one for the department, and before I comment I would like to do so responsibly and I would like to get up-to-date briefings of what’s happening in the department. Again, I look forward to so soliciting your points of view and working with you as we go forward.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing