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US to propose mpg rules freeze at 2020 levels: sources

May 4, 2018
U.S. regulators are poised to propose a freeze on fuel-efficiency standards at 2020 levels, according to two people familiar with the plan, which would erode an ambitious Obama-era initiative to curb planet-warming greenhouse gases.
A draft of the proposed rule, still being developed, outlines eight scenarios for replacing the Obama administration requirements that aimed to slash carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks, said two people who asked to speak anonymously because the deliberations are private.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which are developing a proposal for the White House, will offer a range of options, the people said, adding that the agencies will recommend one that would freeze the target for 2020 through 2026.
The preferred option was reported earlier by the Los Angeles Times.
The EPA disputed that the agencies were proposing a freeze, citing ongoing discussions.
"The agency is continuing to work with NHTSA to develop a joint proposed rule and is looking forward to the interagency process," Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, said in an email. Representatives for the NHTSA had no immediate comment in late April.
Adopting the proposal would reduce federal vehicle efficiency standards for cars and light trucks from levels enacted in 2012 by the Obama administration. Those aimed to boost fuel economy to a fleet average of about 39 mpg in 2020 and more than 50 mpg by 2025.
The Trump administration said last month that the Obama standards were too stringent and needed to be revised. Regulators at the Transportation Department and EPA have been huddling for weeks on the proposal, trading drafts of language before submitting it for review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It could be submitted within days, the people said.
In addition, the administration is considering whether to eliminate California’s unique authority to set its own auto efficiency standards that exceed those of the federal government, though a decision has not yet been made, the people said.
Repealing California’s authority would lead to a major political and legal fight with the nation’s most populous state, which has vowed to defend its standards against a Trump-led rollback. The state has its own car and truck efficiency standards that are aligned with federal rules in place through 2025, an arrangement reached during the Obama administration and with the support of nearly all major automakers.
"The Trump administration’s plan would rob Americans at the gas pump and risk our children’s health by polluting the air we breathe," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "We’ll closely monitor any developments and I’m ready to take any and all action necessary to defend our progress," he added.
A Clean Air Act waiver has given California unique authority to set its own clean-air rules since 1970. A dozen other states follow California’s emissions rules and together account for about one-third of American auto sales.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told a House committee on April 26 that the agency has no plans "at present" to revoke California’s authority.
"We are not aware of any official proposal," said Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board. Such a move would "severely disrupt the U.S. auto industry, compromising its ability to succeed in a highly competitive global market that increasingly values innovative and efficient technologies."