EPA Administrator Pruitt announced on Monday that the Agency has completed a midterm evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light-duty trucks for the model years 2022-2025. He has determined that the data is not sufficient to support the standards as currently written and that they should be revised. (EPA News Release and EPA draft notice to Federal Register). The announcement reflects the continuation of a push by auto manufacturers urging the Trump Administration to roll back these particular regulations. In February of 2017, the President met with auto executives and discussed the 2022-2025 requirements. Generally, the President encouraged the manufacturers to add jobs in the country in exchange for favorable tax and regulatory treatment. (New York Times Feb. 22, 2017). At that time, the 2017 mileage requirement for large cars was 33 mpg, which is generally considered to reflect approximately a 25 mpg real-world result. By comparison, the 2025 target that is proposed for change would require a fleet average fuel economy rating of 54.5 mpg, a number which is approximately 40 mpg in real-world driving.
The automakers have lobbied for a revision to the 2022 and forward standards arguing that the numbers will be very hard to achieve given current industry trends. At the time the 2022-2025 targets were set, gas prices were still relatively high and the national automobile fleet was made up primarily of medium-sized and small cars. But recently, with the fact of relatively lower and more stable gasoline prices, the fleet has trended towards larger vehicles like trucks and SUVs. (Press Herald, March 30).
The proposed change comes with certain complications. There is the potential for general litigation brought by environmental groups on the basis that any revision making the standards less stringent is not likely to overcome the justification for the original standards when they were set during the Obama Administration. (Vox.com) Furthermore, there is the likelihood of a specific challenge at least by the State of California based on an exemption that the State has allowed it to impose more stringent fleet mileage standards that are proposed by EPA. This authority has been in effect for several years and at least 12 states have chosen to follow California’s applicable standards. (Press Herald)
Whether a revision of the standards can be shown to have merit remains to be seen. That will ultimately play out in the courts along with the question of whether California will be allowed to retain its current waiver allowing it to set its own, more stringent rules. In the interim, the automakers will apparently have to continue to plan their course with the current standards in mind.