The Fuse

Last-Minute Disruptions Hit Administration’s Revised Fuel Economy Rollout

by Alex Adams | @alexjhadams | June 11, 2019

Just weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was expected to finalize the Trump administration’s planned revisions to U.S. light-duty fuel economy standards, the agency’s own Science Advisory Board (SAB) has voted to review the science behind the new rules.

Under the current proposal recommended by the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks, fuel efficiency standards for cars, SUVs and light trucks will be frozen at 2020 levels until 2026. Federal officials cite safety and cost savings as the reasons for the freeze.

Analysis from SAFE suggests otherwise. In extensive comments, SAFE analysis shows previous agency studies and current expert opinion contradict the findings in the agencies’ notice of proposed rulemaking that freezing fuel economy will save 12,000 lives. Additionally, SAFE notes that new vehicle purchase prices have fallen by three percent since 2013, even as the total Consumer Price Index has risen by eight percent—and the proposal increases U.S. gasoline demand by 500,000 barrels per day.

The comments go on to recommend the agencies’ cost-benefit analysis methodology must be updated to account for the significant military cost of oil dependence, conservatively estimated by SAFE to be $81 billion per year. The current methodology finds this cost to be zero.

In a statement from SAFE, President and CEO Robbie Diamond said he expected the review to highlight the wide range of disparities and inaccuracies in the administration’s findings, stating that “We anticipate this review will paint a more complete picture not only of the current proposal’s inconsistencies and faulty conclusions, but also the effects these revised standards will have on energy use, oil security, and safety. We commend the decision to review, and urge the administration to give the board the time required to complete its analysis.”

If the review postpones the revised rules from coming into effect, it could also potentially delay anticipated lawsuits from a variety of stakeholders. Chief among these would be the State of California, which is seeking to maintain its waiver to set its own more stringent fuel efficiency standards. Talks between California and the Trump administration have broken down, potentially paving the way for litigation.

No parties would benefit from such an outcome. In a letter sent to the White House last week, 17 major automakers—including Ford, GM, Toyota, Volkswagen and BMW—urged President Trump to moderate his stance on fuel economy, writing that an extended period of litigation and instability would prove “untenable,” adding that the best path to preserve jobs and affordable vehicles is a final rule “supported by all parties—including California.”

SAFE agrees that a return to a single national program, without becoming mired in protracted court battles, should be the preferred solution. “There is a better option that can find a deal between California and the Federal government that will avoid long court battles, save thousands of lives per year, and improve our energy security and economy,” Diamond added in a statement.