Report: EPA backs off plans to freeze fuel economy rules–slightly


EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced Thursday that the agency will delay and revise its plan to freeze emissions and fuel-economy rules, which was expected to be released early this month.

The proposed rule, the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule, would freeze fuel-economy standards at 2020 levels through 2026 and reverse increases scheduled under President Obama. It also proposed to eliminate the waiver that allows California to set its own stricter emissions standards.

Two government officials briefed on the change told Reuters they expect a new proposal to require a small increase in fuel economy requirements through 2025.

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"Our final regulation is not going to be the same as our proposal," Wheeler told Reuters. "We've taken constructive comments, criticisms, concerns from a whole host of different interest groups. I hope our final regulation is something that everybody can get behind and support."

As soon as Trump was elected president, automakers lobbied him to overturn Obama's signature fuel-economy increases, and said they needed a single national fuel economy standard without carve-outs for different states.

The SAFER proposal immediately set the EPA and California at loggerheads, and California, joined by 17 other states, sued the agency over the rollback and said it would continue to require cars sold there to meet the higher standards. Negotiations between Wheeler and California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols broke down in February and Wheeler said in an interview: "This is not a two-way negotiation." 

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He also said in an interview with Bloomberg in February, that the EPA's role was not "to promote a particular type of fuel, such as electricity.

"This is so much more about politics for the state of California than it is protecting the environment," Wheeler said, referring to California's emissions standards and zero-emissions vehicle policy.

Since the SAFER proposal was released, automakers have lobbied the EPA to keep standards unified and certain, rather than break off from California and tie them up in lawsuits for years that could end up at the Supreme Court.

 
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