Part 2 of rollback arrives at White House

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2020

The second part of President Trump’s rollback of clean car standards has landed at the White House for review.

EPA and the Department of Transportation sent the second portion of the rollback to the White House Office of Management and Budget late yesterday, according to the federal rule-tracking website.

The final rule, formally known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, is aimed at weakening Obama-era greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for passenger cars through model year 2026.

The first part of SAFE, released in September, calls for blocking California and other states from setting tougher vehicle emissions standards than those of the federal government.

The second part of SAFE is expected to call for increasing fuel economy standards by 1.5% each year, rather than by 5% annually. That would compel cars to travel much shorter distances on a single tank of gasoline.

Taken together, both parts of SAFE represent one of Trump’s most consequential rollbacks of President Obama’s climate change agenda.

If the rule survives legal scrutiny and takes effect, it could increase planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions by between 1,055 million and 1,317 million metric tons, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group, an economic consulting firm.

Environmental groups decried the rule’s arrival at the White House.

“The clean car standards are the country’s largest-ever effort to reduce climate pollution, while saving families money at the pump and protecting public health, so of course, the Trump administration can’t help but to attempt to gut them,” Andrew Linhardt, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement.

Asked for comment, a DOT spokeswoman said in an email to E&E News: “While the draft will not become public until OMB completes the review and the rule is published, EPA and [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] firmly believe this rule will benefit all Americans by improving the U.S. fleet’s fuel economy, reducing air pollution, helping make new vehicles more affordable for all Americans.”

‘Big test’ for new regulatory czar

The SAFE rule will provide an early test for Paul Ray, whom the Senate confirmed last week to lead the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Ahead of his confirmation, Senate Democrats called on Ray to halt several controversial EPA proposals until concerns by the agency’s science advisers were addressed (E&E Daily, Jan. 9).

In particular, Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee noted that EPA’s Science Advisory Board had raised serious concerns about the economic analysis underpinning the SAFE rule (Greenwire, Jan. 2).

While Ray never committed to honoring the Democrats’ request, he was easily confirmed in a 50-44 vote along party lines.

Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate at the left-leaning watchdog group Public Citizen, said in a phone interview this morning that there’s still time for Ray to make the commitment.

“This is the first big test for Paul Ray,” Narang said. “There are likely to be serious analytical problems with the rule. And it is OIRA’s job to resolve those analytical problems.”

He added, “If they rush this review and the rule comes out in less than a month, certainly that will indicate to me that politics is driving the OIRA review process, not objective analysis and close scrutiny of rules.”

OMB didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment this morning, while EPA redirected inquiries to DOT.