Pruitt says federal requirement to hit 55 miles per gallon by 2025 will be replaced by different federal number, taking input from all states

From the L.A. Times

Setting up its most aggressive clash yet with California over environmental standards, the Trump administration signaled Monday it may revoke the state’s ability under the Clean Air Act to impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions.

The announcement came as the administration confirmed it is tearing up landmark fuel economy rules pushing auto-makers to manufacture cleaner burning cars and SUVs.

“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

“EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford – while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to working with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard.”

Pruitt said that the administration will abandon the federal goal of having the vehicles average 55 miles per gallon by 2025. That target will be replaced with a weaker fuel economy standard that the administration will settle on at a later date.

The action sets up the administration for a confrontation with California and a dozen other states that have authority under federal law to continue pursuing the Obama era target. Those states met the administration’s action with defiance.

Mileage standard was the federal government’s single biggest action to meet Paris climate goals

The current national fuel economy targets, which were championed by California, represent the single biggest action the federal government has taken to curb greenhouse gases. They are crucial to California and other states to meeting their goals for climate action and reducing smog and other air pollution. The targets are also essential to an effort led by Gov. Jerry Brown and others to carry the country toward meeting the obligations in the Paris Accord on climate change that the Trump administration is refusing to honor.

The administration’s action, which came at the behest of automakers, could have little use to them if California succeeds in holding out. The state has unique authority under the Clean Air Act to impose standards tougher than the EPA, and other states are permitted under federal law to embrace the California rules. A dozen states have. They are poised to join California in fighting the administration.

The states resisting account for more than a third of all car sales, making it difficult – if not impossible — for automakers to take advantage of looser rules if those states don’t go along. While automakers have been hopeful some deal could be brokered, perhaps with California agreeing to weaken the more immediate targets in exchange for federal buy-in to more aggressive goals through 2030, that is looking increasingly unlikely.

Pruitt says he’s not interested in making such concessions, and California officials say they see no reason to go along with his rollback. The tone between state air regulators and the EPA chief has grown increasingly tense, with Pruitt signaling he may try to revoke the state’s Clean Air Act waiver, an unprecedented and legally risky move that has potential of leaving the auto industry with years of uncertainty.

“The years of litigation and investment uncertainty will be far harder on the auto industry than simply living up to the fuel economy standards they once embraced,” warned Sen. Diane Feinstein, in a statement. “The EPA is willfully ignoring the fact that these emission standards are working. Cars are becoming more fuel efficient and consumers are saving money at the pump….Right now, car manufacturers are on target to exceed 40 mpg by 2020 and 50 mpg by 2025. There simply is no reason to roll back that progress.

But automakers complain they are confronting a market in which gas prices are low and consumers are more interested in purchasing SUVs and pickups than the fuel-efficient passenger vehicles the federal mandates favor.

“Manufacturers need to sell vehicles that customers need and want today to fund the technological shifts and electrification and automation expected in the future,” said a statement from John Bozzella, CEO of the Association of Global Automakers, an industry group representing the U.S. operations of car companies.

EVs and hybrids just 3% of U.S. car sales, environmentalists blame car makers’ marketing of SUVs

Industry officials and analysts note that electric cars and hybrids account for just three percent of vehicle sales in the U.S., even as they are taking off in other countries. Environmentalists blame the companies, saying they are putting too much of their marketing and product development energy into SUVs.

If automakers prevail in their bid to relax mileage standards nationwide, warned Dan Becker, director of the Washington-based Safe Climate Campaign, they will “grow weaker by making too many gas guzzlers, the very course that led GM and Chrysler to bankruptcy and an $85 billion bailout not even a decade ago.”

“Auto companies have the cost-effective technology – better engines and transmissions, high strength, low weight materials – to safely meet the 2025 standards,” he said. “This is auto mechanics, not rocket science.”

And Becker warned California is already in the process of developing its aggressive mileage targets for beyond 2025, which a different White House could decide to embrace nationally, leaving car firms that start backtracking now in a bind.

The more immediate dilemma the auto makers – and consumers — face is how to contend with different rules applying to different parts of the country. Industry analysts say no good would come of it.

“Different standards in a single market will only cause harm to consumers, the environment, the economy, and automakers,” said an email from Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book. The fallout, she wrote, could include higher car prices, difficulty selling cars across state lines, and possibly more older, higher polluting cars being used as consumers get discouraged from buying new models.

“Nobody wins if we can’t come to a single standard agreement which promotes the most fuel-efficient versions of vehicles consumers already want to buy,” Lindland said.


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