DETROIT — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it has decided that automakers have the ability to meet greenhouse gas emission standards that will be in place through 2025 even though the standards will get stricter in the coming years and the auto industry mounted a major lobbying effort aimed at relaxing the standards.
The agency, which sped up the time frame to reach its conclusion, said it did so because of what the vast amount of data it has been reviewing has revealed — not because it is rushing the finalize the rule-making process before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
“That’s really not on our mind,” said Janet McCabe, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the office of air and radiation, when asked about the incoming Trump administration.
In 2011, President Barack Obama announced an agreement with major automakers to nearly double fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg, which the administration said would save motorists $1.7 trillion in fuel costs over the life of their vehicles but also cost the auto industry about $200 billion to comply with over 13 years.
So far, automakers have successfully met the new regulations and the agreement is considered to be among Obama’s signature achievements. But the Obama administration and automakers also agreed to a midterm evaluation of the deal that began in July when a technical assessment report was released. By law, the review had to be completed by April 2018.
McCabe said the agency’s decision to reach its conclusion early was “based on exhaustive analysis, public comments, and thorough consideration of an extensive technical record.”
The Auto Alliance, an industry lobbying group that represents nearly all major automakers, blasted the EPA’s decision.
“This extraordinary and premature rush to judgment circumvents the serious analysis necessary to make sure the (fuel economy and greenhouse gas) standards appropriately balance fuel efficiency, carbon reduction, affordability and employment,” the alliance said. “The evidence is abundantly clear that with low gas prices, consumers are not choosing the cars necessary to comply with increasingly unrealistic standards. Wishing this fact away does no one any favors, and getting this wrong has serious implications.”
The automotive industry believes Trump will be far more sympathetic to the industry’s position that the standards will be too costly, will drive up the price of new cars and trucks, and will be counterproductive.
Trump has called for eliminating the EPA but has more recently modified that position, saying in September that he’ll “refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans.”
John Boesel, president and CEO of industry lobbying group CALSTART, said a Trump administration might have a difficult time reversing the standards.
“The decision today was based on a lengthy, technical review. It simply reaffirms an existing regulation,” Boesel said. “For this process to be undone, an equally significantly technical analysis would have to be completed and would have to come up with contradictory findings.”
The regulations in question were agreed to in 2012 by automakers along with fuel economy standards that are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Back in 2012, both automakers and the government made a commitment to review the regulations this year to see if changes were required.
The industry argues that consumer preferences have changed, that people are buying far more crossovers than expected, and that lower-than-expected fuel prices have dampened the demand for electric vehicles.
“We will soon issue a decision granting formal consideration of an industry petition to further harmonize the agencies’ programs,” the U.S. Department of Transportation said in a statement.
The EPA’s McCabe said the agency’s review revealed that the cost for automakers to developing new cars and trucks that meet the stricter standards is lower than what had been expected in 2012. McCabe also said the EPA concluded that new electric, hybrid cars, cars with stop-start systems, and lighter cars have been developed at a faster-than-expected pace.
“This is a very positive success story that should move forward,” McCabe said.