Trump Administration's Error-Riddled Fuel-Economy Rules

The official case for repealing car fuel-economy rules is so full of errors it will be hard to defend in court.
November 5, 2018, 11am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Robinson Meyer shares details of the curious case of the Trump administration's attempt to appeal car fuel-economy standards put in place during the Obama administration.

The Trump administration’s official case for repealing car fuel-economy rules is riddled with calculation mistakes, indefensible assumptions, and broken computer models, according to economists, environmental groups, and a major automaker. The errors may seriously endanger the rule, hampering the White House’s ability to prove the proposal’s benefits exceed its costs and raising questions about whether it can survive an almost inevitable court challenge.

The mistakes range in scope from the comical to the bizarre, from the obviously accidental to the how-did-they-miss-that. In one case, federal employees have forgotten to divide a crucial figure by four. In another, officials have assumed that raising the cost of cars will lead more people to buy them, a violation of the principle of supply and demand. In a third case, the proposal asserts that freezing fuel-economy standards for new cars will lead the owners of old cars to drive their vehicles less.

What's more, every single error seems to tilt the analysis in the Trump administration's favor, according to Meyer's sources. Mistakes like that will make it very difficult to support the Trump administration's proposal when it inevitably faces a lawsuit.

In some cases, the mistakes are so large—and so central to the rule’s legal justification—that remedying them may destabilize the entire argument for the proposal. Public documents also make it clear that the Trump administration knew about some of the errors before the rollback was published.

Meanwhile, General Motors and Honda have broken ranks from the previous universal support for the Trump administration's moves to undo the Obama-era fuel economy rules. Ryan Beene and John Lippert report in a separate article:

General Motors Co. plans to propose that instead of opposing California’s so-called zero emission vehicle sales mandate, federal regulators should instead embrace a nationwide electric-car sales program starting in 2021. Honda Motor Co., meanwhile, took exception to Trump’s proposed freeze on mileage standards and called for steadily increasing requirements to continue.

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Published on Wednesday, October 31, 2018 in The Atlantic
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