Trump admin finalizes clean cars rollback

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Trump administration today completed its rollback of Obama-era clean car standards, in a move that could undermine public health at the height of the coronavirus crisis.

The administration today finalized the second part of the rollback, which is formally known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule.

As expected, the second part of the SAFE rule would require automakers to increase the fuel economy of passenger cars by 1.5% each year.

That’s far less stringent than the standards set by President Obama, which mandated a 5% annual increase in fuel economy.

But it’s less dramatic than the Trump administration’s original plan, which was to freeze the standards at 2020 levels through model year 2026 (Greenwire, Aug. 2, 2018).

If the rollback survives legal challenges and takes effect, cars would be permitted to travel shorter distances on a single tank of gas, forcing consumers to pay more at the pump.

At the same time, cars would release significantly more pollution from their tailpipes. The Obama-era standards were projected to cut carbon emissions by 6 billion metric tons over their lifetime.

The SAFE rule is a joint endeavor between EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation.

The first part of the SAFE rule, released in September, blocked California from setting tougher tailpipe pollution rules than those of the federal government.

The first part of the rollback sparked numerous lawsuits from environmental groups and Democratic attorneys general. The second part is certain to attract litigation as well. The fight could eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler plans to defend the rollback during a call with reporters this morning.

“Now, more than ever, this country needs a sensible national program that strikes the right regulatory balance for the environment, the auto industry, the economy, safety and American families. The final SAFE rule does all of those things,” Wheeler will say, according to his prepared remarks.

But Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, slammed the Trump administration for pushing through the rollback during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The path of costly, prolonged litigation was entirely avoidable, but in the midst of an economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, that is the path this administration has chosen,” Carper said in a statement to E&E News.

“The auto sector is already reeling from economic turmoil related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this rule will lead to prolonged litigation, regulatory uncertainty and economic disarray,” he said.