EPA to reopen emission-rule review; how important is this step?

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump

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Tomorrow is expected to be the day when President Donald Trump announces the EPA will reopen the comment period for the vehicle emissions standards it finalized in the waning days of the Obama Administration.

The event will likely be accompanied by predictable language: Trump will be “highlighting the need to eliminate burdensome regulations that needlessly hinder meaningful job growth," in the words of beleaguered White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

But assuming that's the substance of the announcement—and Trump doesn't, say, announce that all emission limits will be entirely abolished—what does this amount to?

DON'T MISS: EPA to reopen 2022-2025 auto-emission rule decision: report

First, it provides the new president a major media opportunity to appear with executives of automakers both U.S. and foreign, in this case at an autonomous vehicle testing facility outside Detroit.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne are confirmed to be attending the president's event.

Ford has been cagier about which executive it will send, although CEO Mark Fields said in January he would personally ask Trump to reopen the emission-rule process.

Mark Fields

Mark Fields

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High-ranking executives from Daimler, Nissan, Toyota, and other carmakers will also be present at the press event, according to a report from the Reuters news service and other outlets.

"Automakers argue the vehicle emissions rules, which would raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025 from 27.5 mpg in 2010, will impose significant costs and are out of step with consumer preferences," Reuters summarizes.

"They argue they need more flexibility to meet the rules amid low gas prices."

READ THIS: Carmakers ask Trump to review EPA rules, use discredited job projection

Second, the president's framing of the issue as one of "burdensome" regulations that "needlessly hinder" the creation of jobs is hardly unexpected.

That's the same justification used by Fields and the industry lobbying group the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

It is to be hoped that any actual data that may be used is more substantial than the widely discredited projection by the Center for Automotive Research of "up to 1 million jobs" that could be lost, which was cited by both Fields and the Alliance numerous times.

The White House, Washington, D.C. [Creative Commons license by dcjohn]

The White House, Washington, D.C. [Creative Commons license by dcjohn]

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That hope may be in vain, of course, given the administration's tenuous history of providing factual backup or justifications for some of its actions to date.

Even under its new head, climate-science denier and fossil-fuel proponent Scott Pruitt, however, the EPA will have to abide by the rule of law and its internal procedures. Presumably.

That means that the simple act of reopening the comment period may not—necessarily—be the Armageddon painted in the press releases that have flooded forth from environmental groups.

It's undeniable that the EPA drastically shortened the comment period for the "Midterm Review" that was always part of the original 2012 agreement among regulators and automakers for emission limits for 2018 through 2025 vehicles.

CHECK OUT: What White House faces if it tries to roll back fuel-economy standards

That period was expected to run from the issuance of the EPA's Technical Assessment Report, which was released last July, through April 2018.

Instead, based on the copious evidence in the Report, the agency finalized the rules less than a month before Obama left office.

It will take a lengthy process, based on factual evidence, to overturn that report's conclusion that automakers have met the standards to date at lower cost and using less expensive electrification than projected, and will be able to do so through 2025.

The deeper worry, then, should not be the reopening of the comment period per se—but what changes Pruitt will make to the mission, goals, procedures, staffing, and budgets of the agency he now runs.

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