Energy & Environment

EPA challenged Trump officials' claim car efficiency rollback would save lives

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff challenged the Trump administration's conclusion that rolling back vehicle fuel efficiency rules would save lives.

In an official report that the EPA sent in June to the White House Office of Management and Budget, staffers said the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) modeling overinflated the safety drawbacks from increasingly efficient cars.

In the end, the two agencies came out with a proposal earlier this year to freeze efficiency and green gas emissions standards in 2021 and cancel out plans to ratchet them up through 2026.

In their unified rule dubbed the "Safer and Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles Rule," the agencies said the rollback would save 1,000 lives per year and save consumers thousands of dollars on new vehicles.

But documents released Tuesday show that there was significant disagreement over those conclusions.

EPA's modeling resulted in "safety outcomes that show the proposed standards are detrimental to safety," including an additional 17 traffic deaths per year between 2036 and 2045, the report said.

The EPA also found technology costs $500 lower for the more efficient cars than NHTSA, and a consumer payback period about two-thirds shorter. The agency also accused NHTSA of inflating the number of old, less safe cars that would stay on the road if newer cars had to be more efficient.

NHTSA defended its estimates in June, saying that its predictions about the vehicle market "would be much more reasonable to expect."

The documents show that the EPA and NHTSA often clashed in formulating the policy, with the EPA frequently accusing NHTSA of using incorrect modeling and misinterpreting studies in ways that boosted the case for the rollback.

The records were part of the White House's review process for the proposal. Such documents are normally released in the days following a proposal's publication.

The EPA said the records show just a small snapshot of the administration's back-and-forth in formulating the rule.

"These emails are but a fraction of the robust dialogue that occurred during interagency deliberations for the proposed rule. EPA is currently soliciting comments on eight different alternative standards and we look forward to reviewing any new data and information," said EPA spokesman James Hewitt.