The Trump administration moved Thursday to freeze fuel economy standards, saying that suspending higher Obama-era mileage requirements will give drivers access to “more affordable” vehicles and boost the economy.
The Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency proposed the change as the first step in setting new mileage standards for auto model years 2021 through 2026. The plan would freeze Obama-era requirements that are set to take effect after 2020. The Obama administration had set a 54-mile per gallon standard by 2025, up from the current average of 38 mpg.
“There are compelling reasons for a new rule-making on fuel economy standards for 2021-2026,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “More realistic standards will promote a healthy economy by bringing newer, safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles to U.S. roads, and we look forward to receiving input from the public.”
The administration also filed notice Thursday that it wants to revoke the authority of California and other states to set their own, stricter mileage standards.
The EPA said easing mileage standards beginning in 2021 would give “the American people greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles that are cleaner for the environment.” The government will seek public comment on the proposals.
In justifying the proposed change, Ms. Chao and acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler also said the Obama administration’s effort to get more electric cars on the road isn’t working.
“Today electric vehicles are only about 1.5 percent of new vehicles sold,” they wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Some data conclude that nearly half of consumers who purchase an electric car do not buy another because of challenges with range and recharge times. Yet to meet the previous administration’s fuel-economy and greenhouse-gas standards, manufacturers would have to produce vehicle lineups that are 30 percent electric or more over the next seven years far more vehicles than buyers are likely to want.”
Democrats blasted the move, saying it will lead to more air pollution. California Gov. Jerry Brown said he will fight the administration’s “stupidity.”
“For Trump to now destroy a law first enacted at the request of Ronald Reagan five decades ago is a betrayal and an assault on the health of Americans everywhere,” Mr. Brown said. “Under his reckless scheme, motorists will pay more at the pump, get worse gas mileage and breathe dirtier air. California will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible.”
California’s Democratic senators, Kamala D. Harris and Dianne Feinstein, introduced a nonbinding resolution Thursday with 32 other senators asserting California’s authority to set its own tailpipe emissions standards and supporting the current “One National” program on emissions.
“The administration has again put a target on California’s back and they have chosen to protect pollution over people,” Ms. Harris said. “Rolling back the fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards will jeopardize air quality improvements and efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. This decision is not based on scientific evidence and will ultimately cost Americans money at the pump.”
Ms. Feinstein said the president “may want to ignore the science, but he can’t ignore the law.”
“The Clean Air Act gives California the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions,” she said. “Congress has made it clear that fuel economy standards are important and we’re not going to let the Trump administration undermine them now.”
Myron Ebell, director of Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment, called the action “good news for consumers.”
“It means that the federal government will have slightly less control over the kinds of cars and trucks people can buy,” he said. “It might even cause car prices to stop increasing so rapidly. Even better news is the decision to take California out of the driver’s seat for setting CAFE standards for the entire country. Letting one state make decisions for people in other states makes a bad program even worse, especially since the state is California, which has been pursuing an anti-car agenda for decades.”
Tea Party Patriots President Jenny Beth Martin praised the administration’s move, saying the free market should determine what types of cars are available.
“For too long, bureaucrats in Washington and California have used Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations to dictate to automakers what cars to make, limiting consumer options, raising prices, and putting car ownership, especially new car ownership, out of reach for many Americans,” she said. “This decision by the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to reform former President Obama’s CAFE regulations takes the decision-making power away from the bureaucrats and puts it back in the hands of the American consumer where it belongs.”
But David Friedman, vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports, called the move “a serious mistake that will cost consumers dearly.”
“Given this administration’s dramatic lack of progress on auto safety, and the auto industry’s proven ability to improve safety and fuel efficiency at the same time, it is troubling at best that this rollback was made under the guise of safety,” he said.