U.S. states to sue Trump administration over freezing fuel efficiency requirements

Calling a new Trump administration proposal to roll back fuel efficiency standards "insane", Pennsylvania's Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the state would join 18 others, including California, to legally challenge the sweeping plan to scrap Obama-era rules that set increasingly higher standards.

Trump's move concerns a deal originally struck between Obama and many leading automakers in 2011 that envisioned a series of gradual increases through 2025, when average fuel economy would rise to 54.5 miles per gallon (4.3 litres per 100 kilometres).

The Obama rules were meant to ensure progress made during the Democrat's presidency would extend beyond it. Automakers over the last decade have employed lighter materials and tweaked vehicle design to boost fuel efficiency, changes that have improved mileage on even the biggest United States gas guzzlers. "California will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible".

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a set of new fuel economy and emissions standards on August 2, estimated to result in 12,700 fewer traffic deaths, make passenger cars more affordable, and give automakers more freedom to create cars based on consumer preference rather than government mandate. In May, California and 16 other states filed a preemptive lawsuit arguing the rollback would be illegal.

It's going to result in dirtier air and cost communities all across the country more money in dealing with the cost of climate change. More than a dozen states follow California's standards, amounting to about 40 percent of the country's new-vehicle market.

"The law requires fuel economy standards in order to save fuel, and yet this proposal does just the exact opposite", said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. And with President Donald Trump in the White House, the group would need a veto-proof majority to prevent the changes from going forward, should they actually receive and win a floor vote.

The proposal would freeze USA mileage standards at 2020 levels, when the new vehicle fleet will be required to hit an average of 30 miles per gallon in real-world driving. But Trump's EPA said the efficiency rules drive up vehicle prices, keeping many people in older, less safe cars and trucks.

The Obama-era rules also drove vehicle prices higher, since prior estimates fell short of what incremental improvements to fuel efficiency actually cost. Assuming, strictly for illustration purposes, a gasoline price of three dollars per gallon, that would result in an increased annual fuel expenditure of about $318.

But private transportation experts say there are so many factors involved that the 1,000-lives figure is questionable. That argument remained on the EPA's website Thursday.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said the administration is "driving our auto future in reverse".

Said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao: "There are compelling reasons for a new rulemaking on fuel economy standards for 2021-2026". He cautions that as the EPA provides more information about its new proposed standard, those calculations may change.

Officials said the aim of the new plan is to help with hurdles automakers face in producing fuel-efficient vehicles, which, on average, cost consumers $35,000 more. "Kicking California bullies out of the fuel economy playground will expand consumer choice, while making new cars more affordable". "We urge California and the federal government to find a common sense solution that sets continued increases in vehicle efficiency standards while also meeting the needs of America's drivers".

  • Joe Gonzales