Wheeler: Obama admin ‘tried to tip the scales’ on EVs

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler today accused the Obama administration of engaging in “social engineering” by setting policies that encouraged people to purchase electric vehicles.

“The Obama administration was social engineering. … I think the Obama administration went beyond the statutes and tried to tip the scales,” Wheeler said today during a Bloomberg New Energy Finance summit on mobility in San Francisco.

“We’re not trying to social engineer people into a particular type of vehicle,” he said, adding, “I don’t think it’s EPA’s role to promote a certain type of fuel source, such as electric vehicles. We have to make sure the playing field is level for everyone.”

Wheeler was referring to the Obama administration’s clean car standards, which helped incentivize automakers to produce more electric vehicles.

EPA and the Department of Transportation in August proposed rolling back the Obama-era standards and pre-empting California from setting tougher tailpipe pollution rules than the federal government (Greenwire, Aug. 2, 2018).

Once finalized, the proposal is certain to trigger a lengthy legal battle between the Trump administration and California, which would be allied with 13 other states that follow the tougher rules.

The Trump administration is hoping to finalize the car rules rollback by March. Asked whether the partial government shutdown pushed back the timeline, Wheeler remained optimistic.

“We still hope to meet our goal of having something out by the end of March,” he said. “The government shutdown may delay us a little bit; we’re still trying to figure that out.”

Some DOT employees were able to work on the rollback during the shutdown because some of the agency’s funding had already been appropriated, Wheeler added.

Wheeler was also in San Francisco today to meet with Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board and his counterpart in the car rules negotiations (E&E News PM, Oct. 26, 2018).

Asked what he planned to tell Nichols, Wheeler was tight-lipped, noting that reporters were in the room. “I don’t want to negotiate a deal with Mary Nichols through the press,” he said.

The acting EPA chief asserted, however, that the Trump administration has more clout in the talks than California.

“This is not a two-way negotiation,” he said. “It’s not an equal partnership.”

Wheeler will be back on Capitol Hill tomorrow, when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on his nomination to lead the agency on a permanent basis. He is expected to advance despite growing bipartisan concern about EPA’s handling of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in drinking water.

Wheeler spoke for roughly 20 minutes at the BNEF event, focusing on the car rules and steering clear of PFAS and other hot-button issues before the agency. He did not take questions from the audience.