Washington — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, has introduced legislation that would allow automakers to apply credits for gas mileage improvements from model years as far back as 2009 to help comply with emission rules that require them to produce car and truck fleets that average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

Upton said making the change, a priority of U.S. automakers, would “harmonize” federal emission standards by addressing conflicts in existing rules that are enforced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Environmentalists and consumer advocates argue the measure would weaken U.S. gas mileage rules by allowing automakers to get credit for previously achieved mileage improvements.

The measure is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.

“The high cost of the current conflicting regulatory requirements automakers are facing drives up manufacturing expenses, which are then passed along to consumers,” Upton said in a statement. “

The measure, known as the Fuel Economy Harmonization Act, would allow automakers to apply credits for auto pollution reduction earned after the 2009 model year to help meet federal emission standards for the model years between 2016 and 2025. A similar bill wasintroduced in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

The rules for 2021 and beyond are being reviewed by the Trump administration, which has hinted it will roll them back.

Backers of the “harmonization” bills say the measures address long-standing conflicts between NHTSA’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program and the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas emissions programs, which the Obama administration announced in 2009 would be managed as one program. Under the current rules, the EPA has greater authority to fine automakers than the transportation department.

Automakers have complained the harmonization has been far from a smooth process.

“Today, there are still separate regulatory programs, created under separate statutes, managed by separate regulatory agencies. As a result, the mechanics of the programs differ,” the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, which lobbies for major automakers, said in a statement. “Automakers could comply with requirements under the EPA program and still face fines from NHTSA for the same product portfolio because of the different structure of the CAFE program.”

Environmentalists and consumer advocacy groups have complained that the so-called harmonization measures are an effort to weaken fuel economy standards that automakers agreed to in 2012.

“This bill is the latest salvo by the automakers in their quest to roll back successful clean car standards,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “It provides windfalls and concessions that would weaken the standards, making cars less fuel efficient and creating more air pollution in American communities.”

Shannon Baker-Branstetter, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, “This bill delivers a windfall to automakers at the expense of consumers who would end up paying more at the pump. Americans who depend on larger vehicles and trucks for work or family needs would suffer most.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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