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Trump EPA to Roll Back Obama-Era Auto-Emissions Standards

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)

The EPA announced Monday that it will begin to roll back Obama-era vehicle-emission standards due to concerns the regulations were overzealous and the product of “politically charged expediency.”

The emissions standards, which would have applied to cars and light trucks produced between 2022 and 2025, were a core component of the Obama administration’s commitment under the Paris Climate Accords to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025. The announcement represents the conclusion of the Trump administration’s review of the regulations and the beginning of a months-long rule-rewriting process.

“Obama’s EPA cut the midterm evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality and set the standards too high,” EPA administrator Scott Pruitt wrote in a statement.

Pruitt also announced the agency will “reexamine” a waiver granted by the Obama administration, which allows California to set its own, more stringent vehicle-emissions standards. The move will likely prompt yet another legal battle between the Trump administration and California, which has established itself as a bastion of judicial resistance to federal immigration and environmental policy under the administration.

While Democrats viewed the Obama EPA regulations as a necessarily aggressive response to climate change, the agency has been criticized by industry stakeholders and Republican lawmakers for setting unrealistic goals. Automakers missed 2016 tailpipe-emission targets by 9 grams per mile and Obama EPA officials conceded that they would likely come up short of the 54.5 mile per gallon fuel-efficiency target for autos produced in 2025, as well.

Though many auto manufacturers and industry groups initially called for the outright repeal of the Obama-era emissions standards, some are now asking that the Trump administration leave the rules in place while allowing them greater flexibility in attempting to comply. The companies are concerned that the lack of uniform national regulations prompted by California’s decision to maintain tougher standards will bifurcate the auto market and complicate production.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) objected to the move, citing a 2007 law she helped pass, which she said “requires the standards to be as strong as scientifically possible” after 2020.

“An unbiased, technical assessment revealed that automakers are exceeding the standards at lower costs than we expected,” Feinstein said. “Car manufacturers are on target to exceed 40 mpg by 2020 and 50 mpg by 2025. There simply is no reason to roll back that progress.”

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