US eyes freeze of fuel efficiency rules

Automobile traffic moves along the Capitol Beltway during rush hour one day before the 4th of July holiday July 3, 2018 in Fort Washington, Maryland. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is predicting that 39.7 million Americans will drive 50 miles or more away from their homes during the Independence Day holiday week, a 5 percent increase over last year.Image copyright
Getty Images

The Trump administration has proposed freezing rules that require carmakers to build cleaner, more fuel-efficient models.

It also wants to stop states such as California being able to set their own standards.

Officials said the proposed changes offer a “much-needed time-out” from increasing requirements.

However, the plan to weaken the fuel efficiency rules faces resistance within the US.

Attorney generals from 20 states, including California, as well as Washington DC have already pledged to fight the change in court.

“Freezing or weakening these standards puts the health of our children, seniors, and all communities at risk, and increases the rising costs of climate change for our states,” the coalition said in a statement.

“We are prepared to go to court to put the brakes on this reckless and illegal plan.”

‘More realistic’

In 2012, the US outlined a plan requiring carmakers to increase the fuel efficiency of their models each year, achieving an average of about 50 miles (80 km) per gallon for the fleet of new cars and trucks sold by 2025.

The Obama administration estimated that the higher standards would save 12bn barrels of oil.

In 2017, President Donald Trump ordered a review of the car pollution rules, casting it as part of a broader effort to reduce regulations in the US.

The new proposal would freeze the standards for the fleet of new trucks and cars sold at the 2020 level – about 37 miles per gallon – a change the Trump administration estimates will increase daily fuel consumption by 2%-3% above forecasts.

Officials at the Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency said the revised standards were “more realistic”. They argued the change would help to reduce the expense of a car, encouraging buyers to switch to newer, safer models.

They are now taking public comments on the plan, as well as other alternatives. A final decision is expected this winter.

Negotiating time?

The effort follows the White House decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and comes as other countries, including China, move ahead with more stringent rules.

  • Most new cars must be electric by 2030, ministers told
  • China looks at plans to ban petrol and diesel cars
  • Paris climate deal: Trump pulls US out of 2015 accord

Reaction to the proposal was mixed in the US.

Carmakers initially sought to ease the Obama-era requirements, arguing that the growing popularity of SUVs and pick-up trucks had put the targets out of reach.

But they have since grown worried about the uncertainty created by the likelihood of a lengthy legal fight between the federal government, California and other states.

Under the 1970 Clean Air Act, California can set its own emissions rules, provided its standards are at least as protective as the federal government’s.

The exception, which recognised California’s pre-existing efforts to tackle the issue, has allowed California to set the bar for the industry. About a dozen states now follow its rules.

On Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown said the Trump administration’s plan to create a single set of standards for all 50 states was “a betrayal and an assault on the health of Americans everywhere”.

“California will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible,” he said.

Two organisations representing carmakers issued a joint statement saying the release of the proposal should set the stage for “substantive negotiations”.

“We urge California and the federal government to find a common sense solution that sets continued increases in vehicle efficiency standards while also meeting the needs of America’s drivers,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers said.

The Environmental Defense Fund called the proposal a “massive pileup of bad ideas” that would lead to families spending more on petrol each year.

Its president Fred Krupp said it was a proposal that “no one – not the American public, not the states, not even most automakers – really wants, and one that’s being presented to the public under the false and easily discredited guise of improving public safety”.