Late yesterday the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a notice of proposed rulemaking, the misleadingly named Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks, to roll-back the breakthrough Obama Administration standard that were design to increase fuel economy, reduce greenhouse gases, eliminate or diminishes the transfer of U.S. dollars to terrorist supporting oil producers.*
The Trump Administration claimed that the new national automobile fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards (SAFE Vehicles Rule, for short) will give the American people greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles that are cleaner for the environment.
The SAFE Vehicles Rule is the next generation of the Congressionally-mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (aka NPRM) is the first formal step in setting the 2021-2026 Model Year (MY) standards that must be achieved by each automaker for its car and light-duty truck fleet. It is and has been the role of Congress to pass the enabling legislation.
The proposal halts progress on fuel economy currently mandated by the law by eliminating the ongoing increase in fuel economy and freezing the standards at 2020 model year rates through 2026. The standards set during the Obama Administration were developed in conjunction with the auto industry, individual states and and environmental pressure groups.
Just as harmful is that NHTSA and EPA are seeking public comment on a wide range of regulatory options, including “a process to establish a new 50-state fuel economy and tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions standard for passenger cars and light trucks covering MY 2021 through 2026. Decades long case law and precedent that allows California and other states to set standards that protect the health of its citizens are at risk of being thrown out. (CARB Defies Trump on Vehicle Emission Standards, CARB Issues Mid-Term CAFE, Green House Gas Review) **
“There are compelling reasons for a new rulemaking on fuel economy standards for 2021-2026,” claimed Trump appointee DOT Secretary Elaine L. 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.”
States’ Rights on Collision Course with Big Government Republicans
Not so fast responded a rising chorus of critics. California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and California Air Resources Board (CARB) Chair Mary D. Nichols expressed their “strong opposition to the proposed rule from the Trump Administration that would eviscerate the current greenhouse gas emission standards for model year 2021-2026 vehicles and put in place weakened emission and fuel efficiency standards at the expense of public health, the economy and the environment.
“Instead of adopting maximum feasible standards to increase vehicle fuel efficiency, as federal law requires, the Administration is moving to freeze the standards at the 2020 level through model year 2026. Similarly, rather than addressing the pressing threat of climate change as the Clean Air Act mandates, the Administration is moving to freeze greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles for those same years.
“If enacted, this proposal will cost consumers billions of dollars in additional gasoline to run less efficient cars and light-duty trucks. It will also degrade air quality and put millions of additional tons of climate-disrupting pollution into the atmosphere.
“The Trump Administration is also proposing to withdraw the waiver granted to California more than five years ago for the State’s own greenhouse gas emissions standards and its successful zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) programs— an unprecedented and unlawful action that flies in the face of congressional intent and would aggravate the harms to consumers, public health, and the environment caused by the weakening of the federal standards. The Administration proposal would also block the many other states that use California standards from moving forward.
“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,” said Governor Brown. “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.”
“The Trump Administration has launched a brazen and unlawful attack on our nation’s Clean Car Standards. The California Department of Justice will use every legal tool at its disposal to fight back,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our nation’s Clean Car Standards save consumers thousands of dollars, protect our families’ health, and ensure that we continue tackling climate change, the most important global environmental issue of our time. We are ready to do what is necessary to hold this Administration accountable.”
“At first glance, this proposal completely misrepresents costs and savings. It also relies on bizarre assumptions about consumer behavior to make its case on safety,” said California Air Resources Board Chair Mary D. Nichols. “CARB will examine all 978 pages of fine print to figure out how the Administration can possibly justify its absurd conclusion that weakening standards to allow dirtier, less efficient vehicles will actually save lives and money. Stay tuned for further comment. Meantime, California remains fully committed to a rigorous 50-state program with a full range of vehicle choices. That program is in effect right now and will remain so for the foreseeable future.”
(Additional statements from Attorneys General across the country are available.)
AutoInformed largely agrees with critics: The current standards have been a factor – but only one factor – in the rising cost of new automobiles to an average of $35,000 or more. Ignored is customer choice on for more expensive plush models, as just one refutation. And how about the over-pricing of Premium SUVs and pickup trucks because they are in tight supply? The alternative in the proposal, keeping in place the standards finalized in 2012 would add $2,340 to the cost of owning a new car, and impose – it’s claimed – more than $500 billion in societal costs on the U.S. economy over the next 50 years. This is debatable.
A 2018 government study by NHTSA states the obvious result of such government regulations that keep pursuing improvement. It shows new model year vehicles are safer, resulting in fewer deaths and injuries when involved in accidents, as compared to older models. Why is the Administration not correcting and refining the current standards that improve the health or save the lives of American people from newer vehicles with more advanced safety features, better fuel economy, and myriad associated environmental benefits?
On April 2, 2018, the EPA issued the Mid-Term Evaluation Final Determination which found that the MY 2022-2025 GHG standards are not appropriate and should be revised. As always it was controversial because of its ideological aspects.
NHTSA and EPA are now allegedly seeking public feedback “to ensure that all potential impacts concerning today’s proposal are fully considered and hope to issue a final rule this winter.” This seems extremely ambitious given the forthcoming legal challenges that likely will drag on for years before ending up in front of the Supreme Court.
*Clean Air Act Background
In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), CARB, and car manufacturers established a unified national program harmonizing greenhouse gas emission standards and fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards, and in 2012 the agencies extended the national program to model years 2017-2025 vehicles. As part of the program, California and the federal agencies agreed to undertake a mid-term evaluation to determine if the greenhouse gas emission standards for model years 2022-2025 vehicles should be maintained or revised.
In January 2017, the EPA completed the mid-term evaluation by issuing a final determination, affirming that the existing standards were appropriate and would not be changed. The EPA arrived at this conclusion based on an extensive record it developed in conjunction with CARB. CARB confirmed in March 2017 that the agreed-upon standards for model years 2022-2025 were appropriate and feasible.
On April 13, 2018, however, the Trump Administration took the first step toward dismantling the national program when it issued a revised final determination that alleged the federal greenhouse gas standards for model year 2022-2025 vehicles were no longer appropriate. The Administration failed to provide any appropriate or relevant evidence for its arbitrary revision of its previous mid-term evaluation. Leading a coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia, Governor Brown, Attorney General Becerra, and CARB sued the EPA on May 1, 2018 over the EPA’s April 13th action.
At present, the car industry is on track to meet or exceed the clean car standards at issue.
The federal Clean Air Act (CAA) preserves California’s authority to set its own stricter-than-federal vehicle emissions regulations to address the State’s extraordinary air quality challenges and because it had vehicle air quality regulations on its books predating the CAA and EPA. Since then, CARB has adopted, implemented, and enforced a wide array of nation-leading air pollution controls, based on a strong foundation of science and reflecting a longstanding partnership with federal air quality regulators. Its pollution control strategies have proven to be a model for other states, the nation, and other countries.
The ability of other states to adopt California standards, if they are as or more stringent than federal standards, is written into the CAA Section 177.
CARB’s mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare, and ecological resources through effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy. The CARB oversees all air pollution control efforts in California to attain and maintain health-based air quality standards.