Trump Administration Proposes Freezing Fuel Economy Mandates

Published August 28, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) formally proposed freezing automobile fuel mileage mandates at 2020 levels through 2026.

EPA also announced it planned to revoke California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases which allowed it and 13 other states to set higher fuel economy requirements for cars sold within their borders.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s August 2 announcement of the proposed freeze came four months after former EPA chief Scott Pruitt on April 2 said the agency would revoke the Obama-era standards requiring cars and light trucks sold in the United States to achieve an average of almost 55 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025.

EPA approved the 54.5 mpg mandate in December 2016, just before Obama left office and two years before the previous standards were scheduled to be reviewed.

Studies show the Obama standard would substantially increase the price of cars and change the composition of the nation’s automobile and light truck fleet for years. In April, Pruitt said the Obama administration had short-circuited the process for setting fuel mileage mandates for political reasons.

“The Obama administration’s determination was wrong,” Pruitt said in a press release. “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.”

‘Save Lives,’ Money

Wheeler’s announcement of the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021–2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks arrived after consultation with NHTSA to determine what fuel economy mandates can best balance automobile affordability, vehicle safety, fuel economy, and consumer choice.

“Our proposal aims to strike the right regulatory balance based on the most recent information and create a 50-state solution that will enable more Americans to afford newer, safer vehicles that pollute less,” Wheeler said. “More realistic standards can save lives while continuing to improve the environment.’

“There are compelling reasons for a new rulemaking on fuel economy standards for 2021–2026,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in a statement. “More realistic standards will promote a healthy economy by bringing newer, safer, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient vehicles to U.S. roads, and we look forward to receiving input from the public.”

EPA calculates freezing fuel mileage mandates at 2020 levels through 2026 will save consumers money and increase road safety.

“Current estimates indicate that the proposed SAFE Vehicles Rule would save over 500 billion dollars in societal costs and reduce highway fatalities by 12,700 lives (over the lifetimes of vehicles through [model year] 2029),” the proposal states.

Halts CA Power Grab

Tim Huelskamp, Ph.D., president of The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says the Trump administration’s decision to rescind California’s ability to mandate fuel economy for the nation is justified and long overdue.

“For decades, multiple administrations in Washington, DC allowed liberal California to dictate environmental mandates to the rest of us,” said Huelskamp. “Revoking Obama’s draconian fuel mileage restrictions, and California’s dubious exemption to federal standards, would make cars safer and more affordable.

“Under the regulations proposed by Acting EPA Administrator Wheeler, no longer would Sacramento be imposing its alarmist climate agenda on the rest of the nation,” Huelskamp said. “If adopted, this regulation would be another promise kept by President Donald Trump.”

Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says EPA never had the authority to allow California to limit automobile emissions.

“The Trump administration is right to eliminate California’s power to regulate fuel economy, which it has been doing through its tailpipe CO2 standards and Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate,” Lewis said. “The 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, the nation’s original fuel economy statute, specifically preempts states from adopting or enforcing laws or regulations ‘related to fuel economy standards.'”

“The aforementioned California policies directly regulate fuel economy, and thus are unlawful,” said Lewis.

‘Making Cars Great Again’

By freezing current fuel mileage mandates, the Trump administration is putting Americans’ safety and freedom of choice first, says James Taylor, a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute.

“EPA and NHTSA are wisely reviewing the rash, unattainable fuel mileage mandates previously imposed by environmental zealots in the Obama administration,” Taylor said. “The agencies’ preferred alternative—freezing the model year 2020 mandates through model year 2026—will go a long way toward making cars great again.”

“Rapidly tightening fuel mileage mandates make cars lighter and less crashworthy, causing thousands of preventable road deaths each year,” said Taylor. “The fuel mileage mandates also reduce consumer choice and raise car prices above what many Americans can afford.”

Benefitting Working Americans

The Trump administration’s decision to freeze fuel economy mandates at current levels will benefit working families, says Horace Cooper, co-chairman of Project 21, an initiative of The National Center for Public Policy Research to promote the views of African-American entrepreneurs.

“We want to thank the Trump administration for adopting a commonsense approach to fuel economy standards,” said Cooper. “Setting realistic CAFE goals that don’t force American families to choose between putting food on the table and having a modern vehicle is essential.

“The administration’s proposal will help put consumers back in the driver’s seat by allowing them to select a household vehicle based on their actual needs rather than the utopian ideals of radicals,” Cooper said. “CAFE regulations decrease vehicle safety and, because they raise vehicle prices, have an especially disparate negative impact on the poor, a significant portion of whom are black.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.