The proposal would freeze US mileage standards at levels mandated by the Obama administration for 2020, when the new vehicle fleet will be required to hit an average of 30 miles per gallon in real-world driving. That would price many buyers out of the new-vehicle market, forcing them to drive older, less-safe vehicles that pollute more, the administration says.
States that joined the lawsuit said the change would end up costing more money at the pump because vehicles won't go as far on a gallon of gas, and more misery for those suffering pollution-exacerbated maladies such as asthma. That rule - hammered out with states, the EPA, and auto makers - called for increasing fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon for model years 2022 through 2025. In 1989, aHarvard-Brookings study estimated that the modest 27.5 mile-per-gallon requirement at the time caused a 14 to 27 percent increase in traffic deaths because carmakers downsized vehicles.
The administration will now seek public comment on its proposal and a range of other options, including leaving the tighter, Obama fuel standards in place.
As vehicle manufacturers boosted fuel economy across their fleets, incremental improvements have become more costly and complicated while returns have diminished, the agencies say.
"The fleet of new vehicles today is the most fuel efficient ever, and they have gotten safer every year", said Luke Tonachel, director of clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council. At the moment, the state standard and the national one are the same-but if they diverged, automakers could end up making multiple versions of each auto to sell in different parts of the U.S. The Trump administration wants to take away California's right to set higher standards.
The proposal represents an abrupt reversal of the findings that the government reached under President Obama, when regulators argued that requiring more fuel efficient vehicles would improve public health, combat climate change and save consumers money without compromising safety.
Months after they pre-emptively sued to block anticipated efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back mileage regulations, Democratic attorneys general vowed to continue their fight in the courts. Some of the states poised to join the suit, including Pennsylvania, adhere to California's stricter standards.
President Donald Trump had directed the rethink of the mileage regulations, saying in March 2017, "If the standards threatened auto jobs, then common-sense changes" were needed.
The administration also contends that hiking USA oil consumption by 2 to 3 percent over forecast levels would have a minimal impact on the environment, boosting global average temperature by just "3/1000th of a degree Celsius by 2100".
"There are compelling reasons for a new rulemaking on fuel economy standards for 2021-2026", said Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
Transportation experts question the reasoning behind the proposal. A dozen other states and Washington DC also follow higher standards.
Well, I think that, yes, they don't want to have to change, when they have already been preparing for a certain rule.
The Union of Concerned Scientists said the rollback is "completely unacceptable".
Their unease was reflected in a statement released by Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which urged negotiations between 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". Now they're only about one-third, with less-efficient trucks and SUVS making up the rest.