U.S. EPA announces decision to ease federal emission standards for cars and light trucks

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week that the federal government will ease the emissions standards for cars and light trucks, after completing its Midterm Evaluation (MTE) process for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said that the previous administration “made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high,” and that “in light of recent data, the current standards are not appropriate and should be revised.”

The standards called for roughly doubling by 2025 the average fuel efficiency of new vehicles sold in the United States to about 50 miles (80 km) per gallon.

Pruitt also announced the start of a joint process with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop a notice and comment rulemaking to set more appropriate GHG emissions standards and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

The agency said in its decision that the regulation set under the Obama administration “presents challenges for auto manufacturers due to feasibility and practicability, raises potential concerns related to automobile safety, and results in significant additional costs on consumers, especially low-income consumers.”

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA sets national standards for vehicle tailpipe emissions of certain pollutants. Through a CAA waiver granted by the EPA, California can impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions of certain pollutants than federal requirements.

The EPA said that “the California waiver is still being reexamined by EPA under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership.”

“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country. 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,” Pruitt said.

About a dozen other states follow California’s rules, and together they account for more than one-third of the vehicles sold in the U.S. Currently the federal and California standards are the same.

A joint statement by the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the mayors of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, decried the EPA’s decision.

“This move sets us back from years of advancements by the automotive industry put in motion by states that took the lead in setting emission standards,” the statement said. “These standards have cleared the haze and smog from our cities and reversed decades of chronic air pollution problems, while putting more money in consumers’ pockets.”

According to Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the standards are projected to save nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2030, around as much oil as is imported from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) every day. The existing standards are “technically feasible and economically achievable,” he added.

“Slashing these standards would amount to turning the keys to our energy policy over to Big Oil and the auto industry,” said Mackey, who is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and chair of the Senate Climate Task Force.

It could take several years for the EPA to propose new rules, gather public comment and finalize any changes.