Science advisers slam rollback in final report

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 3, 2020

An EPA advisory panel today offered scathing criticism of the agency’s proposed rollback of clean car standards.

In a final report submitted to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler last week and made public today, the Science Advisory Board wrote that the proposed rule contained “significant weaknesses.”

The board, which provides outside counsel to EPA on scientific and technical matters, called on the agency to “strengthen the science supporting the rule.”

The language in the final report largely mirrored that of the draft report released in January (Greenwire, Jan. 2).

In the draft report, the board identified a number of flaws in the analysis underpinning the rollback, which is formally known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule.

In particular, the board wrote that the Trump administration had misinterpreted something called the “scrappage model” — a prediction of when consumers will “scrap” an older car in favor of a newer model.

Notably, however, the board strengthened certain language about the outcome of the rule compared with the standards established in 2012 under President Obama.

The draft report stated: “The augural standards might provide a better outcome for society than the proposed revision.”

The final report said in stronger terms: “The standards in the 2012 rule might provide a better outcome for society than the proposed revision.”

The Sierra Club slammed EPA for pursuing the rollback despite the concerns of its own advisers.

Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter “Time and again we’re reminded that there’s nothing good that could come out of the Trump’s administration’s indefensible rollback of clean car standards,” Andrew Linhardt, deputy director of advocacy for the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement.

“It should be a major red flag that the EPA’s own advisors are raising alarm about the scientific merits of the proposed rollback, but this is unfortunately par for the course for a science-denying administration,” he said.

The release of the final report comes the same day that Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, asked EPA’s inspector general to investigate whether political appointees steamrolled career staffers when crafting the final rule (Greenwire, March 2).

The rollback is a joint rulemaking between EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation.

The two agencies are seeking to weaken greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for passenger cars through model year 2026.

The agencies are hoping to release the second part of the final rule in the coming months, but it remains unclear whether they can meet that self-imposed deadline.

Asked for comment on the board’s final report, EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said in an email: “EPA thanks the SAB for its review.”

Block added: “The proposal received hundreds of thousands of comments during the comment period. When the final rules are issued, the analysis backing the final rulemaking will be publicly available, and the agencies will respond to all substantive comments received during the comment period.”