Energy & Environment

EPA staff warned of factual, legal issues in Trump vehicle climate rollback, watchdog says

Traffic on I-66 in Virginia
Greg Nash

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff warned of factual and legal issues in a Trump administration joint vehicle climate rollback issued with a Department of Transportation agency, an internal government watchdog said.

A report from the office of the EPA’s inspector general raised the concerns about the interagency collaboration between the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  in a new report issued on Tuesday. 

The report said that EPA technical staff told leadership that they hadn’t seen about 650 pages of the 1,000-page rule before it was sent to the White House for review because of a “lack of interagency collaboration at the technical level.”

The rule, which was primarily put together by NHTSA, had “numerous errors and inaccuracies” when it was submitted for interagency review, the inspector general said, citing comments by the EPA. 

The report said that then-EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who was tapped to lead the agency by former President Trump, ultimately signed the rulemaking “with many comments unaddressed by NHTSA.”

It also said that in 2019, technical staff “reported that the continued failure to correct errors could leave the rule legally vulnerable.”

The rule in question both lessened tailpipe emissions standards and fuel efficiency standards for the country’s cars. It was seen as a major climate rollback and projected to cost consumers about $13 billion.

Documents released by the office of Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and reviewed by The Hill have previously shown that EPA staff objected to claims that the rule would reduce climate impacts and that White House staff said it lacked legal justification. 

In a statement on Tuesday, Carper said, “Last year, I requested this report after my office discovered real irregularities in how the Trump Administration finalized its deeply flawed…rule.” 

“This report from the EPA Inspector General confirms those concerns and makes it clear that flawed leadership resulted in flawed policies,” he added. 

The report also found that the EPA did not conduct certain analyses that it usually carries out on the rule’s impacts on vulnerable groups. 

“We share concerns expressed to us by some EPA personnel that the Agency did not fully utilize its established process for regulatory development or its technical personnel familiar with environmental justice, children’s health, and tribal consultation to determine the standards’ potential impact on vulnerable populations,” the inspector general’s office wrote. 

An EPA spokesperson told The Hill in an email that pursuant to an executive order from President Biden, the agency will be “taking action to reconsider” the previous rule. 

“EPA’s regulatory actions should be developed based on sound policy, analytical, and scientific foundations, and should be informed by the full capability of technical staff. EPA has agreed to a variety of actions outlined in the report that would help to rectify the process problems that OIG associated with the …rulemaking.” the spokesperson said. 

Meanwhile, some of those who sued the federal government over the rule said that the report vindicates their position. 

“The report reinforces the position that we took in the litigation that in rolling back the clean car standards EPA abdicated its statutory obligation to exercise its independent judgement, rendering the rule arbitrary and capricious,”  Environmental Defense Fund senior attorney Alice Henderson told The Hill in a statement. 

 “Today’s report underscores the importance of the Biden Administration moving forward swiftly with standards that will protect Americans from harmful vehicle pollution,” Henderson added.

Tags Andrew Wheeler Climate change Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency EPA fuel economy Fuel efficiency Joe Biden NHTSA Tom Carper trump white house vehicle emissions

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