EPA unveils plan to lower Obama-era federal fuel standards

Cars pass the Queensboro Bridge in New York on Jan. 11 2018

In one of its most significant efforts yet to curtail policies created to address climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed freezing fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels, removing the requirement that cars and light trucks be able to travel more than 46 miles per gallon of fuel by 2026.

The plan, developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, asserts that lower fuel economy standards will save lives - the higher price of more fuel-efficient vehicles (about $2,300 more per auto, they say) encourages some people to continue driving older, less-safe vehicles, the agencies say.

The Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency have released a proposal that would effectively lock in model-year-2020 mpg standards through 2026.

Becerra and attorneys general from 16 other states sued in May to stop the EPA from scrapping standards that would have required vehicles by 2025 to achieve 36 miles per gallon (58 kilometers per gallon) in real-world driving, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) over the existing standards.

California is fighting to keep fuel-efficiency standards in place after the EPA announced the rollback of Obama-era mileage standards. But any plans to freeze clean air rules and strip California of its power to set its own rules is drawing fire from members of both parties. The CARB website suggests the state should be allowed to set its own standards, owing to its "unique geography, weather, and expanding number of people and vehicles".

The lawsuit is being lead by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra who said "The Trump Administration has launched a brazen and unlawful attack, no matter how cloaked, on our nation's Clean Car Standards". "The administration's announcement that it will relax future fuel economy (CAFE) standards is good news for consumers", Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Energy and Environment, said in a statement.

"California will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible", Governor Edmund Brown, a Democrat, said in a news release on Thursday.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler says the proposal would make cars more affordable and save lives.

Pollution from cars, trucks and other on-road vehicles is the California's single-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to state data.

Those losses would hit the estimated 200,000 U.S.jobs that deal with making vehicles more fuel efficient, said Simon Mui of the Natural Resources Defence Council.

As auto manufacturers boosted fuel economy across their fleets, incremental improvements have become more costly and complicated while returns have diminished, the agencies say.

"This has to be absolutely one of the most harmful and dumbest actions that the EPA has taken", said Healey of MA, one of the attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia objecting to the change. California received the exemption - the only state to do so - decades ago because it was already developing its own standards when federal rules were being written.

As expected, the government claims the new fuel economy standards are "anticipated to prevent thousands of on-road fatalities and injuries as compared to the standards set forth in the 2012 final rule".

Officials said the aim of the new plan is to help with hurdles automakers face in producing fuel-efficient vehicles, which, on average, cost consumers $35,000 more.

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