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Major automakers are pushing the Trump administration to abandon its plan to roll back climate change rules for cars.
Companies had emphatically encouraged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) to undo the Obama administration’s plans to ratchet up greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency rules for cars through 2026.
But now they’re trying to stop the agencies from going too far in the other direction and freezing the standards in 2020.
In a filing made with those agencies Friday — the deadline for comments — General Motors Co. said the Obama administration standards are “not technologically feasible or economically practicable,” and would increase vehicle costs at the expense of jobs.
But the Trump administration’s plan to completely stop those rules “is not the answer to these regulatory challenges,” GM added.
“Rather, we prefer standards through 2026 that continue improving the fuel economy of gasoline powered vehicles at historic rates and policies that support American leadership in zero emissions vehicles.”
American Honda Motor Co., the U.S. unit of the Japanese conglomerate, wrote in its comments that freezing the standards in 2020 “jeopardizes benefits for consumers and society.”
Honda went on to say the plan, which would include revoking California’s authority to set its own greenhouse gas standards for cars, “invites litigation and regulatory uncertainty, stalls long-term strategic industry planning, puts at risk American global competitiveness, exacerbates climate-related environmental impacts, and slows industry readiness for a widely acknowledged — but extremely difficult to implement — transition to vehicle electrification.”
Ford Motor Co. told the agencies that it supports “fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards that increase year-over-year,” while Toyota Motor North America said it opposes the administration’s proposal.
“Toyota supports continued improvements in vehicle fuel economy performance and GHG reduction,” the company wrote. “This is what society and our customers expect from us, and aligns with our overall long-term corporate direction.”
While the deadline for comments was midnight Friday, agency officials were still sorting through the comments and posting them on the web Monday.
As of Monday afternoon, more than 110,000 unique comments had been posted, a total that doesn’t include some mass-comment campaigns.
The Trump administration unveiled its proposal, dubbed the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, in August, saying that the Obama administration rules threatened consumers and highway safety. The agencies said it would save 12,000 lives and $500 billion.
The automakers who weighed in on the proposal said they want rules that cover cars made through 2026 to increase in stringency, but they want the agencies to take into account factors like low gasoline prices and consumers’ fears of electric vehicles when formulating them.
While the agencies said their "preferred alternative" would be to freeze the standards from 2020 through 2026, they also floated eight other possibilities of increasing stringency, including keeping the Obama standards, which would result in about a 4.4 percent increase in efficiency.
They also said the EPA and DOT should expand opportunities for “flexibility” in complying, like using credits for selling alternative-fuel vehicles or improving air conditioning efficiency.
In addition to the automakers, Shell Oil Products US, a unit of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, registered its opposition.
“The proposal’s own analysis of the proposed roll backs acknowledge that the changes will increase emissions,” the company wrote. “Shell does not support this roll back in the standards.”
It called the proposal to revoke California’s independent authority “a step in the wrong direction.”
Shell would stand to benefit from a rollback of the rules, since lower efficiency would increase fuel sales.
Outspoken opponents of the rollback also used the comment period to reiterate their longstanding opposition to any efforts to weaken standards.
A coalition of 20 states and six cities, led by California, said the proposal is “unlawful in multiple respects,” while adding that it doesn’t meet the legal standards that the agencies are held to.
“If adopted, the proposed rollback would increase (not decrease) vehicle ownership costs,” they wrote. “It also would increase emissions of GHGs and other air pollutants, which, in turn, would exacerbate climate change and harm human health. Finally, contrary to the agencies’ representations, it will not make Americans safer.”
A coalition of environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, called the rule “unlawful.”
“Perhaps cognizant of the overwhelming evidentiary basis supporting the augural and existing standards, the agencies market the rollback as necessary to save lives: They brand it the ‘SAFE’ rule and assert that it will prevent thousands of fatalities,” the groups wrote.
“This is nonsense. The projected fatalities are artifacts of the agencies’ flawed technical analysis. The current standards do not make real‐world vehicles less safe or real‐world driving more dangerous.”
But the comments also show that the administration has strong defenders.
A group of eight Republican state governments, led by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), said the rule will help consumers.
“The SAFE Vehicles Rule provides realistic fuel economy goals that will conserve energy and further protect the environment without stifling the market economy or forcing consumers’ hands. Moreover, by establishing a nationwide, realistic fuel economy standard, the SAFE Vehicles Rule will make cars more affordable.”
Dozens of individual commenters echoed the arguments from the GOP and other rule supporters that by allowing California to set its own standards — which numerous states can then follow — the Obama administration let the Golden State effectively decide the nation’s rules.
“One state should not be able to effectively dictate fuel economy standards, tailpipe emission requirements, and mandates for zero emission vehicles (ZEV) for the entire nation where Congress has set a clear policy favoring a single federal standard and no compelling air quality concern exists that is unique to that state,” wrote Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), joined by the GOP attorney generals of five other states.
Some conservative groups took their support a step farther. While they applauded the rollback, they argued that the administration should set standards even lower.
The Institute for Energy Research said it “would argue for an actual roll back of the unnecessarily high Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandates from the previous administration. However, in the absence of such full relief for American consumers, the proposed path of the NPRM is an acceptable partial relief.”
The EPA and DOT must now analyze the comments before it can make the rule final in some version. The agencies are legally obligated to respond to substantive objections in its final rule.
Any party that sues the agencies to try to stop the rollback can only bring up in court the arguments that it makes in the regulatory comments.