EPA Declares Obama-Era Vehicle Emissions Standards Too Stringent
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EPA Declares Obama-Era Vehicle Emissions Standards Too Stringent

Under existing regulations, automakers must reach an average fleet fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 – more than double the current average.

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In a 38-page notice, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the agency would revise emissions and fuel-economy standards for light-duty vehicles for model years 2022-2025.

Pruitt also announced the start of a joint process with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to initiate a rulemaking process to set “more appropriate” greenhouse-gas emissions standards and corporate average fuel-economy regulations.

In the notice, Pruitt calls out California – a state that has the legal authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to enact its own air-quality rules. California and 12 other states have strict vehicle emissions goals, similar to the Obama administration standards, and have publicly said they will not rescind their rules in response to any EPA action.

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“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” Pruitt said in a news release. “EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse-gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford – while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars. It is in America’s best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard.”

Under existing regulations, automakers must reach an average fleet fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 – more than double the current average. Automakers have argued that these goals are unattainable given U.S. consumers’ preference for less fuel-efficient light trucks and SUVs.

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President Trump has publicly criticized the rules, as well as the state of California.

If the EPA is successful in making the standards “more appropriate,” as Pruitt said, and California and other states refuse to scale back their air-quality regulations, automakers would be faced with the decision of whether to adhere to California’s standards nationwide or simply sell different models in different markets, the Auto Care Association noted.

To force compliance by California, the EPA would require congressional action to amend the Clean Air Act. However, there is a path through federal court in which California’s authority on regulating tailpipe emissions could be revoked, the Auto Care Association noted.

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As part of the 2012 rulemaking establishing the model-year 2017-2025 light-duty vehicle greenhouse-gas standards, the EPA made a regulatory commitment to conduct a midterm evaluation of the standards for MY 2022-2025 no later than April 1. The evaluation would determine whether the standards remain appropriate or should be made more or less stringent.

According to the EPA, the Obama administration “short-circuited” the process and “rushed” its final determination on Jan. 12, 2017. Since then, the auto industry and other stakeholders sought a reinstatement of the original midterm evaluation timeline so the agency could review the latest information.

The EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a reestablishment of the midterm evaluation process in March 2017. In August 2017, the EPA reopened the regulatory docket and asked for additional information and data to assess whether the greenhouse-gas emissions standards remain appropriate. The agency also held a public hearing on the topic.

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“The Obama administration’s determination was wrong,” Pruitt asserted. “Obama’s EPA cut the midterm evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”

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