Yesterday, concurrent with President Donald Trump’s visit to Michigan to meet with auto workers and industry representatives, EPA and the Department of Transportation issued a Notice of Intent that will be published in the Federal Register re-opening the mid-term review of the 2022-2025 fuel economy standards. In the Notice of Intent the agencies stated, “The EPA has inherent authority to reconsider past decisions and to revise, replace or repeal a decision to the extent permitted by law and supported by a reasoned explanation.”
Meantime, the state of California filed a motion earlier this week to intervene and defend the mid-term review and try to prevent efforts to undo the 2022-2025 standards as set by the Obama Administration. The Governor in a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was unequivocal:
“If Washington continues down this road, California will take the necessary actions to preserve current standards and protect the health of our people and the stability of our climate. We can’t stand by while cases of lung disease and asthma needlessly increase and families get gouged at the pump.
When Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, he noted that: ‘The Congress, the Administration and the public all share a profound commitment to the rescue of our natural environment, and the preservation of Earth as a place both habitable by and hospitable to man.
Now is not the time to turn our back on that commitment.”
A separate letter to the leaders of the respective auto manufacturer trade groups was downright scathing:
“Your action to weaken vehicle pollution standards — standards your own members agreed to — breaks your promise to the American people.
Advances in fuel efficiency technology have worked for everyone. They have saved Americans money at the pump, cut oil consumption, reduced air pollution and helped fight climate change.
Putting this progress at risk is reckless. Your actions could cost the average car owner more than $1,650 per vehicle and make Americans consume billions more gallons of gasoline. This would increase our dependence on foreign oil and could raise greenhouse gas emissions by 540 million metric tons.
Please be advised that California will take the necessary steps to preserve the current standards and protect the health of our people and stability of our climate.”
However, the word from the Trump Administration is that they won’t seek to rescind California’s waiver to set tougher fuel economy standards. That would also mean the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program would also remain in place. What happens if in the mid-term review the Agency decides the 2022-2025 standards should be less strict? (And that seems to be a foregone conclusion simply because the Administration reopened the review process.) It won’t be that easy to abolish or roll back the standards, but EPA could relax the compliance schedule and/or provide more credit for non-engine improvements, as examples, which could still invite litigation from environmental NGOs and other parties.
Another possibility that has already been reported by DTN is that the ethanol industry may use this as an opportunity to persuade EPA to allow high-octane, high-ethanol blends to be used in meeting future standards and to revisit incentives for flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) and engines. American Coalition for Ethanol Executive Vice President Brian Jennings told DTN that, “Currently, the standards are biased in favor of electric vehicles and ignore the role that FFVs and engines optimized to run on blends in the range of E25 to E40 can play in meeting fuel economy and GHG reduction goals.”
For a history and overview of the U.S. fuel economy issue, see this article from Vox.