EPA won’t freeze fuel economy standards as Wheeler faces confirmation vote

Source: By Gavin Bade, Utility Dive • Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to increase fuel efficiency standards for vehicles by 0.5% a year, a leading Democrat senator said Wednesday — a goal higher than the agency’s original proposal, but significantly lower than rules finalized by the Obama administration.

The EPA’s planned fuel economy standards are “10 times weaker” than current rules, said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee. The reveal came during the confirmation hearing for Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the EPA who President Trump nominated for the top job in November.

The testy hearing changed little about Wheeler’s likely confirmation, but it revealed new information about how the EPA plans to scale back the vehicle fuel standards and highlighted growing concern among Democrats about climate change and proposed changes to EPA mercury regulations.

A confirmation vote in the EPW Committee, which approved Wheeler as deputy administrator last year, is expected in early February.

Multiple environmental activists attended Wheeler’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday to voice their opposition to his nomination.
Brian Tucker, Industry Dive

Fuel economy review

Under the Obama-era fuel rules, manufacturers of cars and light trucks would have to attain nearly 52 miles per gallon on average across their models by 2025. The Trump EPA in August proposed to freeze the standards in 2020 at less than 37 mpg, but Carper said the agency would amend that plan when it files its finalized regulations.

“Actually, what this administration says is [efficiency] increases of 0.5% per year and eventually just flat, no increases,” Carper told reporters after the hearing. “The auto companies are saying that’s not what we’re asking for. They’re saying we’re asking for near-term relief in return for later on ramping up the standards. They know that’s where the market is going.”

The EPA’s move would also rescind a waiver used by California and twelve other states to set higher fuel economy standards than the federal government. Wheeler said he had met with California’s head air regulator, Mary Nichols, on three occasions to negotiate a deal, but Carper pushed him to do more.

“If I were you I would have her in my office. I would be in California. I would be trying to make this deal,” he said, warning that failure to reach an agreement could result in years of litigation.

“Nobody wants a 50-state deal more than I do,” Wheeler told senators. “I haven’t given up hope yet, but we’re also looking at the calendar and know we have to finalize our proposal by March 30. We’re running short of time.”