Senator: Fuel-economy rollback will cost drivers at the pump

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — The top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee is disputing President Donald Trump's claim that his proposal to roll back stringent gas-mileage rules enacted by the Obama administration will reduce the price of owning a new car. 

In a letter to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, said the proposal would add up to $1,461 to the lifetime cost of operating less fuel-efficient vehicles, which would offset the savings of up to $1,083 on sticker prices the plan purports to save drivers. 

The Trump administration has submitted its final version of its plan to the White House Office of Management and Budget for final review. Details have not been made public, but it is expected to call for reducing the required annual fleetwide average mpg increases for carmakers for model years 2021-2026 from the original 5% to a less-stringent 1.5%. 

Carper said the Trump administration's retrenchment from an initial proposal to freeze gas mileage rates at 2020 levels until 2026 is not enough of a concession. 

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper is disputing the cost-savings touted by the Trump administration for its mpg rollback proposal.

The plan "would dramatically weaken future vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards, without providing the purported safety or economic benefits that were touted by the Trump Administration," Carper wrote.

"The draft final rule would increase the stringency of the standards by 1.5% per year from model years 2021-26, resulting in a projected fuel economy standard of 47.7 miles per gallon for cars, 34.1 miles per gallon for light trucks and SUVs, and 40.5 miles per gallon for the combined fleet by 2030," the Democrat from Delaware continued.

"While this is a less dramatic rollback than the 0% annual stringency increase that was included in the proposed rule, it still falls well short of the historic average 2.4% per year actual tailpipe efficiency standard increases that the fleet has achieved without the use of any credits or other compliance flexibilities," Carper continued. 

Trump has claimed his proposal to roll back stringent Obama-era gas-mileage rules will reduce the price of a new car by $3,000. 

"My proposal to the politically correct Automobile Companies would lower the average price of a car to consumers by more than $3000, while at the same time making the cars substantially safer," Trump tweeted in August 2019. "Engines would run smoother. Very little impact on the environment! Foolish executives!" 

Carper said the number revealed by the analysis from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency revealed that car prices would be reduced far less — $1,083.

The Energy Department and NHTSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Mileage rules for cars have been at the center of controversy since the earliest days of Trump's presidency. 

Carmakers had asked the Trump administration to take another look at fuel-economy rules. Those Obama-era standards would have required automakers to increase fleetwide fuel economy by about 5% annually toward a goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The Obama administration moved to finalize the rules ahead of schedule after Trump's 2016 victory, setting off a chain of events that has led to the current dispute.

Trump went beyond what most automakers were seeking by proposing a freeze that would lock in mpg rates until 2026 at 2020 levels, when carmakers would be required to produce fleets that average about 39 miles per gallon.

California, which helped craft the Obama-era rules, sued over the rollback and has promised to also sue over the revocation of its right to set its own more-stringent mpg requirements. The nation's largest state accounts for 12% of the U.S. auto market. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have adopted California’s gas mileage rules.

Environmentalists and consumer advocacy groups in Washington have sharply criticized the Trump administration for moving to relax the rules. They argued numbers cited by Carper show the Obama-era rules should be left in place. 

"The leaked details appear to show that the administration is dead-set on this rollback despite the strong evidence that it will cost American drivers billions more in fuel costs," Shannon Baker-Branstetter, Consumer Reports’ Manager of Cars and Energy Policy, said. "Thanks to the strong program in place currently, today’s vehicles are safer, more reliable, and more efficient than ever. Undoing the standards threatens this progress and future fuel savings for drivers."


Twitter: @Keith_Laing