EPA loses case seeking modeling behind Obama mileage rollback

EPA loses case seeking modeling behind Obama mileage rollback
© Greg Nash

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was wrong to withhold information about how it devised its new fuel efficiency standards, a panel of judges ruled just a day after the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era mileage standards.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday sided with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Defense Fund, which sued the EPA to gain insight into a controversial modeling technique that many said oversold the benefits for rolling back the Obama administration’s policy.

The new standards unveiled by the Trump administration Tuesday require automakers to produce a fleet averaging 40 mpg by 2026, rather than the previous requirement under the Obama administration to reach 55 mpg by 2025.  

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Environmental groups have vowed to sue over Tuesday’s regulation, but the controversial rule has faced numerous suits throughout its development, including the case from the NRDC.

At issue in Wednesday's decision is the OMEGA modeling used to determine various outcomes from reducing mileage standards. 

Part of the modeling attempted to forecast consumer behavior, assuming people would resist buying as many new cars given the tougher Obama-era fuel standards would likely make them more expensive. If true, used cars would likely stay on the road longer.

But Jeff Alson, a former senior policy adviser at EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, which helps develop vehicle mileage and emissions standards, said the resulting analysis found a surge of roughly a trillion extra miles that would be driven by used cars.

“The miles driven should be about the same,” Alson said, regardless of whether someone buys a new car or keeps driving an older one.

“If I have to go to work, I go to work; if i need to go to the store, I go to the store, but I'm not going to drive all of a sudden a lot more miles,” he said, adding the formula “went haywire.”

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EPA said it would review the court’s decision.

The modeling and other analysis used to craft Trump’s standards are sure to be a feature in future lawsuits over the regulation.

“The Trump administration has been trying to hide the real impacts of its plan to gut clean car standards,” Pete Huffman, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a release. “With this decision, it will be even more clear to the public how dangerous and harmful to the economy this rollback really is.”