Trump’s vehicle efficiency rollback gets chilly reception in Detroit suburb

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2018

DEARBORN, MICH. — The Trump administration was hoping for a warm welcome just outside Motor City today as it held a public hearing on its rollback of Obama-era climate rules for cars.

No such luck.

One after another, critics ranging from auto executives to environmentalists assailed the rollback.

“Climate change is real. We are doing our part to address it,” said Bob Holycross, vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering for Ford Motor Co. “Let me be clear: We do not support standing still. Clean car standards should increase year over year.”

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month outlined a series of options for the Obama-era car rules. The administration’s preferred option was freezing fuel economy standards at 2020 levels through 2026, rather than increasing their stringency each year as President Obama had envisioned.

Just as significant, the administration proposed rescinding California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases. The waiver lets the state set more stringent tailpipe pollution rules than the federal government. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have adopted those tougher rules, representing about 40 percent of the country’s auto market.

Holycross told EPA today, “It is imperative that there is one set of standards with EPA, NHTSA and California coming together. … A patchwork of regulations doesn’t work, and we need regulatory certainty, not protracted litigation.”

The CEOs of major automakers met with President Trump shortly after his inauguration to discuss softening the Obama-era car rules. But they’ve changed their tune since then, with Ford CEO Jim Hackett saying last week that the company is “in favor of keeping the standard, not a rollback” (Greenwire, Sept. 21).

In addition to Ford, auto industry interests represented at the hearing included Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Steve Bartoli, vice president for global fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions compliance with Fiat Chrysler, said today that the company supports increasing the stringency of the standards, but they must account for market realities such as consumer preferences for less fuel-efficient vehicles.

The first speaker this morning was Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.). She’s a former General Motors Co. executive whose husband, former Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), faced criticism from environmentalists for being too cozy with the auto industry (Greenwire, May 18).

Dingell delivered a stinging rebuke of the rollback, saying it would harm both the environment and the economy.

“We need one national program for fuel economy with strong reasonable standards that increase year over year,” she said. “Nobody can deny that strong fuel economy standards have kept our environment clean [and] reduced our dependence on foreign oil. … Flatlining standards is harmful to American leadership and innovation, as well as to the environment.”

James McCargar, a former longtime EPA scientist who served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, also appeared to hammer the proposal.

“In all my career as a scientist, I have never reviewed such a blatant, unjustified attempt to subvert a judicially driven EPA policy,” he said. “It isn’t about vehicle safety; it’s about upending U.S. climate policy.”

Maggie Striz Calnin, program manager and air quality specialist with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, warned about health impacts of the rollback. “The city has significant health and environmental impacts from mobile sources,” she said. “It contributes to 800 hospitalizations due to respiratory concerns, and not to be missed, 570,000 school absences annually in the city of Detroit.”

Some speakers expressed support for the proposal, but they were outnumbered by the critics.

Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, commended the administration for revisiting the Obama-era rules, which he described as costly for industry.

EPA air chief Bill Wehrum and NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King were both present at today’s hearing, which is slated to run until 5 p.m. or until everyone has had a chance to speak. The agencies held the first public hearing on the cars proposal yesterday in Fresno, Calif. They’re set to hold a third and final hearing tomorrow in Pittsburgh. They hope to finalize the amended car rules by early next year.

Prior to today’s hearing, public interest groups held press conferences this morning to broadcast their opposition.

Zoe Lipman, director of vehicles and advanced transportation at the BlueGreen Alliance’s, warned that the administration’s own analysis shows the proposal would lead to cuts in auto manufacturing jobs (Climatewire, Aug. 7).

Public Citizen and the Sierra Club held another press event in a separate room, where they installed dozens of ringing alarm clocks to send a symbolic “wake-up call” to automakers to publicly oppose the rollback.

“These standards are the United States’ largest-ever effort to reduce climate pollution,” said Mike Berkowitz, legislative and political director of the Sierra Club’s Michigan chapter. “This is a big deal.”