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Trump admin says Obama EPA car rules should be eased
The Obama administration's global warming rules for cars for the coming years are too strict and should be relaxed, the Trump administration declared Monday, siding with automakers.
The widely expected declaration by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt matches up with what automakers have asked President Trump to do, arguing that with fuel prices low and Americans buying bigger cars, the greenhouse gas standards for cars built between 2022 and 2025 are too aggressive.
Pruitt said he's kicking off a regulatory process with the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to formally loosen the standards. NHTSA is responsible for car efficiency rules while EPA's authority is over the greenhouse gas emissions; as the only way to effectively decrease greenhouse gas emissions from most cars is to increase efficiency, the two agencies view it as a single standard.
"The Obama administration's determination was wrong," Pruitt said in a Monday statement, referring to the Obama administration's finding weeks before Trump's inauguration that the upcoming rules are appropriate.
"Obama's EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn't comport with reality, and set the standards too high," he said.
Pruitt made the announcement as he fights allegations that he violated ethics standards last year by renting an apartment for $50 per day from an energy lobbyist. He only paid when he slept there and his daughter lived there for some time too, but the EPA determined retroactively that the setup was proper.
The Monday action is the beginning of what is likely to be a drawn-out fight over how ambitious the federal government should be in setting vehicle pollution and efficiency rules.
The standards, set as part of a landmark agreement with automakers in 2011, were one of the main pillars of former President Obama's climate change agenda. The EPA estimated that cars could get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, and that model years between 2012 and 2025 would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion tons and save consumers $1.7 trillion.
The Monday declaration sets up a showdown with California, which has the authority to retain strict standards and has declared its intention to go it alone without the EPA. Twelve other states follow California's rules, accounting for about a third of the nation's car market.
In Monday's notice, Pruitt said he is reviewing whether to continue allowing California to set its own vehicle emissions rules or to revoke the state's waiver.
"Cooperative federalism doesn't mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country," he said, alluding to the fact that Obama negotiated with California on the current regulations. "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."
The announcement is part of a review the EPA pledged to make to determine if the 2022-2025 rules are still feasible.
The Obama administration concluded weeks before Trump's inauguration in January 2017 that the rules through 2025 are still attainable. Automakers strenuously disagreed, and asked Trump to redo the review shortly after he took office.
Automakers praised Pruitt's finding.
"This was the right decision, and we support the administration for pursuing a data-driven effort and a single national program as it works to finalize future standards," said Gloria Borquist, spokeswoman for the Auto Alliance. "We appreciate that the administration is working to find a way to both increase fuel economy standards and keep new vehicles affordable to more Americans."
Global Automakers, which represents companies that import vehicles to the United States, also applauded the move.
"We appreciate the EPA's data-driven process in arriving at its Final Determination that adjustments to the national GHG program are needed," said John Bozzella, the group's president. "This is the first step in a longer rulemaking process, and the best way to achieve our collective goals is under a single national program that provides an aggressive but achievable pathway, a variety of compliance tools, and factors in the role of customers."
Environmental groups immediately slammed Pruitt's decision, arguing that it would be disastrous for pollution and the climate while increasing motorists' fuel costs. Greens are likely to sue if the EPA moves forward and tries changing the regulations.
"These roll-backs from Scott Pruitt mean Americans will pay more at the pump while our air gets dirtier, just so Pruitt can help the corporate lobbyists and polluters who give him favors and marching orders," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
"Pruitt's decision to side with Ford and the Auto Alliance rather than the overwhelming majority of Americans who want these clean car standards should come as no surprise as this is an administrator who focuses solely on what's best for corporate polluters, not the public. But make no mistake, we will continue fighting back to protect these standards and the health of our communities," he said.
"The Trump administration's decision will take America backward by jeopardizing successful safeguards that are working to clean our air, save drivers money at the pump, and drive technological innovation that creates jobs," said Luke Tonachel, director for clean vehicles at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Updated at 3:06 p.m.