Energy & Environment

Conservative group sues administration, arguing rollback of Obama mileage rule wasn’t aggressive enough

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A conservative think tank is suing the Trump administration over its rollback of fuel economy standards, arguing the government’s own analysis shows it should make the standards even weaker.

The March rule drastically cuts back the year-over-year mileage requirements automakers must achieve.

While the Obama administration required automakers to produce fleets that average nearly 55 mpg by 2025, the Trump rule would bring that number down to about 40 mpg by 2026, lower than what automakers have said it is possible for them to achieve.

But a suit filed Friday by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) would push the Trump administration to consider even an even steeper rollback.

“The agency was right to roll back the scheduled increases in fuel economy standards, which would have made cars less crashworthy and increased highway fatalities,” Sam Kazman, CEI’s general counsel, said in a statement. 

“But NHTSA should have reduced those standards even more, and perhaps frozen them entirely.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) argued that rolling back the standards will save lives because the deregulation will make cars cheaper. They posit the lower prices will convince drivers of older cars to ditch them for new cars with better safety features. 

The analysis accompanying the rule predicts it will save about 700 lives, but elsewhere the rule shows anywhere from 440 to 1,000 premature deaths resulting from air pollution caused by the increase in smog and other pollution.

That same analysis also found the rule will cost more than it will save by at least $13 billion.

That cost-benefit analysis has been seized on by environmental groups as a way to undermine the rule in courtan argument the CEI also plans to make. 

“NHTSA’s own cost-benefit analysis shows that a less stringent standard would have more benefits than costs compared to what NHTSA chose to do,” Devin Watkins, a CEI attorney, said in an email.

However, that only holds true under the most generous analysis accounting for growth, which found freezing the fuel economy standards at current levels would save $18.4 billion.

Using a more modest figure for economic growth, however, finds freezing current standards would cost $16.3 billion.

Environmental and consumer groups have pledged to challenge the rule in court.

“If they failed to do the math right, if they failed to do their analysis right, if they failed to produce a rule based on the literature and good sourcing, it’s likely to get thrown out in court, and what we certainly saw in the proposal is bad math, bad science, and bad economics,” David Friedman with Consumer Reports previously told The Hill. 

Tags Corporate Average Fuel Economy Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fuel economy

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