House Democrats investigate oil companies' involvement in fuel standards rollback

House Democrats investigate oil companies' involvement in fuel standards rollback
© Getty Images

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has launched an investigation into petroleum companies’ involvement in a Trump administration rollback of Obama-era fuel economy standards for vehicles.

In letters to Marathon Petroleum and the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM), Democrats accused the two of involvement in a "covert lobbying and social media campaign" to support the rollback, which was announced in August 2018.

A key pillar of former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaA Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press Juan Williams: Don't count Biden out Candidates in Obama's orbit fail to capitalize on personal ties MORE's environmental legacy involved strengthening fuel emissions standards for cars to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2026. But Trump's rollback, which Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analysis said would increase petroleum consumption by 500,000 barrels per day, would freeze the average fuel economy at 37 miles per gallon.

The New York Times found the two groups worked through other conservative and energy groups to push favorable reception of the rollbacks on fuel standards.

Democrats have asked the two entities to turn over all communications with government officials about the policy change, as well as descriptions of any conversations or lobbying efforts they were involved in.

They made the same request to conservative groups the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity, and Energy4US, a group tied to AFPM.

The auto industry has opposed the rollback of fuel efficiency standards, largely on the grounds that California is fighting to keep its more stringent standards, and EPA career staff countered claims from agency heads that the measure would save lives.

That left House Democrats to eye other industries that might benefit from the change.

“The oil industry thus stands to profit significantly from the proposed rollback,” Democrats wrote in the letter, which was signed by committee leaders Reps. Frank Pallone (NJ), Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyA disaster for diplomacy and the Zionist dream The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders repeats with NH primary win, but with narrower victory Hillicon Valley: Judge approves T-Mobile, Sprint merger | FTC to review past Big Tech deals | State officials ask for more cybersecurity help | House nears draft bill on self-driving cars MORE (Ill.) and Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case MORE (N.Y).  

Marathon Petroleum did not immediately respond to request for comment.

AFPM said they received the letter and planned to respond. They also noted their previous public comments in support of the rule.

"We support the Administration’s efforts to ensure fuel economy standards are technologically feasible and appropriately balance increased efficiency with consumer choice, affordability, and safety," AFPM president and CEO Chet Thompson said in a statement to The Hill. "The existing fuel economy standards have not been met for several years and, therefore – as intended in the original rule – are in need of adjustment.”

The request comes as Democrats are gearing up for a Thursday hearing on the rollbacks, which will include Bill Wehrum, the head of the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, and Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board who has threatened strict pollution measures in response to the rollback.