America’s gas war is heating after 17 states, as well as the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to redefine U.S. vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency rules through 2025.
In April, EPA chief Scott Pruitt said the existing standards for model year 2022 to 2025 vehicles should be revised. The suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, alleges the EPA acted unpredictably, failed to follow its own regulations, and was in direct violation of the Clean Air Act. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman claimed the “Trump administration conducted a phony study” to justify altering emission rules to appease automakers and the oil industry.
Meanwhile, U.S. Representatives Doris Matsui of California and Paul Tonko of New York are demanding the EPA hand over all documents related to the study that resulted in the proposed changes to fuel economy standards.
According to Reuters, the lawmakers asked for access to all emails related to the development of the fuel proposal, prior drafts, a list of the staff that participated in its development, and a list of all meetings held with industry and stakeholders. The EPA responded by saying the proposal had not yet been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review, but would be accessible then.
“The Agency is continuing to work with NHTSA to develop a joint proposed rule and is looking forward to the interagency process,” explained EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman. It’s assumed the U.S. Transportation Department has already drafted a proposal that should made public sometime this month. However, the EPA is already circulating a draft in Washington that intends to fix vehicle requirements at 2020 levels through 2026.
That hasn’t sat well with the 17 states who collectively agreed to follow California’s example, remaining loyal to the extra stringent mandates established during the Obama administration. Matsui even went so far as to accuse Pruitt of making false statements to a Congressional committee, since the draft appears to ignore California’s Clean Air Act waiver. While speaking on Capitol Hill, the EPA chief said there was no plan to revoke the waiver at the time. However, the draft was penned prior to those statements.
The issue is also addressed in the lawsuit, though both camps seem to feel as if the Clean Air Act is on their side. The White House said it’s currently looking over the suit, but hasn’t said much otherwise.
It’s a very different story from the plaintiffs, however. California Governor Jerry Brown announced the suit’s filing in Sacramento this week, while simultaneously accusing the EPA of breaking the law and placing public health at risk. “This is about health, it’s about life and death,” Brown said. He then said Trump and Pruitt are only interested in forcing the public to buy more gas, creating more pollution as a result.
Adjusting for a shift in consumer demand to larger vehicles, the current rules are projecting to increase fuel efficiency to a fleet-wide average of 46.8 miles per gallon by 2026, according to a letter sent Tuesday by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) to Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Based on a copy of the draft proposal he obtained, the administration’s proposed changes would result in a fleet-wide average of 37 mpg within the same time frame. Carper believes the alterations would result in Americans using 206 billion more gallons of gasoline through 2050.
While other estimates have been more or less generous, the general consensus among the opposition is that changing the rules will result in the burning of more gas (duh). The Trump administration is expected to counter these claims by suggesting that softer fuel rules will result in more affordable vehicles and more jobs. It’s also wise to point out that practical sales-weighted efficiency averages for the country haven’t changed much in the last few years — not that reducing economy targets will change any of that.