Obama administration moves to finalize fuel economy rules before Trump takes office

Obama administration moves to finalize fuel economy rules before Trump takes office

Agency could approve plans to keep higher standards in place by year's end, nearly two years ahead of schedule.

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December 1, 2016
By Robert Schoenberger
Cars/Light trucks Regulations

Washington, D.C. – President Barack Obama’s administration took steps Tuesday to ensure fuel economy regulations will be in place before Donald Trump becomes president.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy issued a proposed determination that automakers can fulfill higher mileage requirements agreed to in 2012 that initially called for a 54.5mpg standard by 2025. The regulations included a mid-term review, during which environmentalists, lawmakers, regulators, and automakers were to submit comments, seeking to either strengthen or weaken the standards.

Earlier this year, the EPA released a technical report that said automakers were on track to meet goals by increasing the number of hybrids and battery powered vehicles. That report also found that the growing popularity of SUVs and crossovers would mean a lower standard. The 2012 regulations assumed that cars would make up more than 60% of vehicles by 2025, but trucks and SUVs are making up more than half of industry sales this year.

McCarthy’s determination that the standards should remain unchanged opens up a comments period that will end on Dec. 30, 2016. That will allow McCarthy to finalize the rule before Trump takes office on Jan. 20, 2017. The regulatory framework for the mid-cycle review wasn’t due until April, 2018.

"That’s really not on our mind," Janet McCabe, the U.S. EPA's acting assistant administrator for the office of air quality division told The Detroit Free Press, when asked about the incoming Trump administration. She said the agency's decision to reach its conclusion early was "based on exhaustive analysis, public comments, and thorough consideration of an extensive technical record."

Automakers and business groups criticized the decision.

National Automobile Dealers Association President Peter Welch, said, “The outgoing administration has chosen to halt progress on fuel economy by enacting a policy that will delay the introduction of safer and cleaner vehicles by making them more expensive. Washington’s midnight regulation will increase costs and force many working families into older, less safe and less efficient used cars. NADA looks forward to working with the Trump Administration to ensure that working families can choose the cleaner new cars and trucks they need at prices they can afford.”

It is not immediately clear what a Trump administration could do to block the regulations of McCarthy finalizes them before the new president takes office. Though Trump will be able to replace leadership at the EPA, the agency’s bureaucratic rules-making process could make it difficult to block enforcement in the short term. The new president might be able to issue executive orders countermanding the regulations, but such orders would likely be challenged by environmental groups.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group that includes almost all major automakers, called the ruling an “extraordinary and premature rush to judgment circumvents the serious analysis necessary to make sure the CAFE/GHG (corporate average fuel economy/greenhouse gas) standards appropriately balance fuel efficiency, carbon reduction, affordability, and employment. The evidence is abundantly clear that with low gas prices, consumers are not choosing the cars necessary to comply with increasingly unrealistic standards. Wishing this fact away does no one any favors, and getting this wrong has serious implications.”

Source: EPA, NADA, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers