The Environmental Protection Agency is planing to backtrack from the fuel emission standards imposed upon auto manufacturers.

On April 2, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the completion of the Midterm Evaluation process for the greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025.His final determination is that the current standards “are not appropriate and should be revised.”

Pruitt also announced the start of a joint process with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop a notice and comment rulemaking ‘to set more appropriate GHG emissions standards and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.”

“The Obama Administration's determination was wrong,” Pruitt said. “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.”

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA sets national standards for vehicle tailpipe emissions of certain pollutants. Through a CAA waiver granted by EPA, California can impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions of certain pollutants than federal requirements. The California waiver is still being reexamined by EPA under Pruitt’s direction.

“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country. EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford—while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars,” he said in a statement. It is in America's best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard.”

As part of the 2012 rulemaking establishing the model year 2017-2025 light-duty vehicle GHG standards, the EPA made a regulatory commitment to conduct a MTE of the standards for MY 2022-2025 no later than April 1, 2018. This evaluation would determine whether the standards remain appropriate or should be made more, or less stringent. 

In November 2016, the Obama Administration, according to Pruitt, “short-circuited the MTE process and rushed out their final determination on Jan. 12, 2017, just days before leaving office.”

 “Since then, the auto industry and other stakeholders sought a reinstatement of the original MTE timeline, so that the Agency could review the latest information,” he added.

The EPA and Department of Transportation announced a reestablishment of the MTE process in March 2017. And, in August 2017, EPA reopened the regulatory docket and asked for additional information and data relevant to assessing whether the GHG emissions standards remain appropriate, including information on: consumer behavior, feedback on modeling approaches, and assessing advanced fuels technologies. EPA also held a public hearing on this topic. 

“The 2015-20124 and GHG and fuel economy standards were established through a rule-making in 2012,” says Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. “Six years later, a great deal has changed in terms of the types of cars available for purchase, our fuel supply and infrastructure, vehicle affordability and consumers’ vehicle buying habits. Manufacturers have also had the chance to live under a three-headed regulatory program governing fuel economy—two federal agencies and California—and understand where the three programs operated in harmony and where they can be improved.”

“Bottom line, there is no way anyone could have possibly known everything about 2022-2025 vehicles in 2012,” he added. “The midterm evaluation was a smart addition to the program, and we support a thorough, data-driven process. Ultimately, we hope to see one true national program for manufacturers that reduces GHG emissions and increases fuel economy while preserving vehicle affordability.”

The National Automobile Dealers Association also praised the announcement. “NADA has long supported a data-driven and informed process for determining future greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards, and we applaud EPA for putting us back on this path,” said President and CEO Peter Welch

“America’s franchised auto dealers fully support continuous improvements in fuel economy and vehicle emissions, and we fully support fuel economy requirements that will allow us to build on the progress we’ve already achieved while keeping new vehicles affordable for working men and women across America,” he added. “Standards alone, whatever they are. won’t do the trick. But smart standards that maintain affordability and encourage fleet turnover will help maximize the number of cleaner, safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles we get on the road every year.”

As for environmentalists, they were out in full force to criticize the EPA's plan. In one notable protest, 300 alarm clocks rang simultaneously outside the headquarters of Ford Motor Company “to send a message” to the company: “Wake up and stop colluding with the Trump administration to weaken clean car standards.”

The groups that organized the event included Public Citizen, Greenpeace USA, and Safe Climate Campaign.  The clocks were flanked by large signs highlighting “the company’s efforts with President Donald Trump to roll back the clean cars standards and ‘make cars dirty again.’" The action was part of a broader effort by the Forward Not Backward campaign “to demand that Ford and other automakers live up to their commitments and stop trying to undo the popular fuel economy standards.”

“Rolling back the clean car standards is a disaster for our climate and for consumers,” Madeline Page, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen, said in a statement.

“Rigorous analysis has shown that rolling back strong fuel standards will mean more greenhouse gases heating up our climate and more air pollutants in our lungs,” said Natalie Nava, project leader at Greenpeace USA. “With these alarm clocks, we’re sending a message to Ford on behalf of the millions of Americans whose health will be affected by today’s decision, particularly those communities that live near freeways, refineries and extraction sites. We condemn the EPA’s decision on behalf of these affected populations.”