Legal Loophole Will Allow Rollback of Fuel Efficiency Standards

On Tuesday, the Trump administration anticipates unraveling two signature Obama environmental regulations: fuel efficiency standards for model year 2022-2025 light-duty vehicles and beginning the undoing of the Clean Power Plan.
March 7, 2017, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Last January, when Donald Trump was still president-elect, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completed their required midterm review, an evaluation (pdf) of the "Appropriateness of the Model Year 2022-2025 Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards." Six months earlier, E.P.A. had issued a draft report concluding that the auto industry would come very close to meeting the rule, finalized in October 2012, of 54.5 miles per gallon by year 2025.

E.P.A.'s final determination was to make no changes to the standard, which pleased environmentalists but disappointed auto manufacturers.

Enter President Trump and his industry-friendly cabinet, and the auto industry seized an opportunity after the Feb. 17 confirmation of Scott Pruitt as E.P.A. administrator to reverse the determination made by the prior administrator, Gina McCarthy. On account of the fact that the E.P.A. "did not jointly release its plan...with the Transportation Department," it left "a legal loophole for the Trump Administration to take advantage of," writes Coral Davenport, climate and energy reporter for The New York Times.

Three agencies are involved in determining fuel efficiency standards:

He also predicted that “if this administration goes after the California waiver, there will be an all-out brawl between Trump and California and the other states that will defend its program.”

No doubt Pruitt, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and President Trump were sympathetic to the Auto Alliance's letter (pdf) of Feb. 21 which made the following claims about the burdensome regulation:

Even today, no conventional vehicle today meets that [54.5 mpg] target, and conventional vehicles comprise 96.5% of the new light-duty vehicle fleet. Only some non-conventional vehicles (i.e., hybrid, plug-in electric, and fuel cell vehicles) which comprise fewer than 3.5% of today's new vehicles, currently can do so.

Even under EPA's optimistic estimates, the automotive industry will have to spend a staggering $200 billion between 2012 and 2025 to comply, making these standards many times more expensive than the Clean Power Plan.

Clean Power Plan

Last month, President Trump announced his attention to rescind President Obama's Clean Power Plan, already purged from White House website, which requires a 32 percent cut in carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030 on 2005 levels. The rule has been placed on suspension after a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in February 2016. Davenport explains what Pruitt will have to do to dismantle that rule and the fuel efficiency standards:

He will have to legally withdraw the existing rule and propose a new rule to replace it, a process that could take up to two years and is expected to be fraught with legal challenges and delays along the way.

The effort to undo the tailpipe standards will be much more legally simple. After withdrawing the Obama administration’s requirement for model years 2022 through 2025, the Trump administration will have a year to put forth an alternative set of efficiency standards, people familiar with the matter said.

Effect on greenhouse gas emissions

Redoing those two signature rules in the Obama Climate Initiative may have a dramatic effect on the increasing greenhouse gas emissions, as the 2014 pie chart shows:

Pie chart of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector in 2014. 30 percent is from electricity, 26 percent is from transportation, 21 percent is from industry, 12 percent is from commercial and residential, and 9 percent is from agriculture.
Total Emissions in 2014 = 6,870 Million Metric Tons of CO2 equivalent (courtesy of the U.S. EPA).

As Planetizen editor James Brasuell posted last June, the transportation sector supplanted the power sector as the top source of carbon emissions, though that may have more to do with heavy trucks than light-duty vehicles. In addition, due largely to cheap gas, Americans set a new record last year in vehicle miles driven, and last year bought more light trucks, including sport utility vehicles, than passenger cars which are generally more fuel efficient.

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Published on Friday, March 3, 2017 in The New York Times
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