Trump administration announces plans to freeze Obama-era fuel-efficiency requirements

Traffic flows near the interchanges that link I-495 and I-270

Traffic flows near the interchanges that link I-495 and I-270

Schwarzenegger weighed in shortly after the Trump administration announced that it would move to roll back former President Obama's fuel economy and global warming standards for cars.

Under the policy enacted by the Obama administration in 2012, the target would have risen progressively from 37mpg (6.4L/100km) in the 2020 model year to 46.5mpg (5.1L/100km) in 2025 model year.

The proposal to roll back anti-pollution efforts is in line with President Donald Trump's decision a year ago to abandon the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which countries agreed to take steps to mitigate global warming.

"There are compelling reasons for a new rulemaking on fuel economy standards for 2021-2026", said Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

The administration's rule aims to preempt California's Clean Air Act (CAA) waiver and argues that it should be pulled entirely.

"Millions of Americans are choosing cleaner vehicles, longer lives and lower fuel costs because of clean vehicle standards", said State Senator Ricardo Lara, who represents parts of North Long Beach. The state, and others that have adopted the standard, have vowed to fight in court.

The lawsuit is being lead by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra who said "The Trump Administration has launched a brazen and unlawful attack, no matter how cloaked, on our nation's Clean Car Standards".

At press time, only Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had responded to the proposed rules: "The proposal includes a range of options, and we will carefully evaluate how each aligns with FCA's goals of continuous improvement in vehicle efficiency and, at the same time, building vehicles customers want, at prices they can afford".

Officials said the change to fuel efficiency rules would offer a "much-needed time-out from further costly increases". The CARB website suggests the state should be allowed to set its own standards, owing to its "unique geography, weather, and expanding number of people and vehicles".

In a 978-page document (pdf) released on August 2, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are also proposing to retract a waiver issued to California in 2013, which enabled the state to set its own stricter emissions standards.

Transportation experts question the reasoning behind the proposal.

The Trump proposal would freeze standards at 2020 levels when vehicles will be required to hit an average of 30 miles per gallon (48 kilometers per gallon) in real-world driving. It's likely to set up a lengthy legal battle between California and the Trump administration.

The proposed plan would freeze fuel efficiency standards at the levels current policy is targeting for 2020.

The Obama administration had planned to keep toughening fuel requirements through 2026, saying those and other regulations on vehicles would save 40,000 lives annually through cleaner air. It might even cause vehicle prices to stop increasing so rapidly.

The argument may prove a tough sell in court, where attorneys for states and environmental groups will come armed with a wealth of data undermining it.

"For more than a decade, ME and the other states have used our rights under the Clean Air Act to limit tailpipe pollution beyond federal minimum requirements", Emmie Theberge, federal project director at NRCM, said in a statement.

Besides, California - which is essentially now a foreign country - should not control the auto market and decide pollution and mileage standards for the rest of the country.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation said the increase in emission standards for cars built from 2021 to 2026 would hurt vehicle sales and improve safety of motorists across the country. He cautions that as the EPA provides more information about its new proposed standard, those calculations may change.

During an earnings conference call last week, General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra repeatedly emphasised the need for a single national standard on fuel economy.

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