The Trump administration plans to weaken federal efficiency standards on millions of cars being built between 2022 and 2025.
"Based on EPA's review and analysis of the comments and information received, and the Agency's own analysis, [EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt] believes that the current GHG emission standards for MY 2022-2025 light-duty vehicles are not appropriate and should be revised," according to EPA talking points shared with outside groups and obtained by E&E News.
The move is expected to increase greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector at a time when cars and trucks are eclipsing power plants as the nation's top source of carbon dioxide.
It also threatens to ignite court battles with a dozen states while slowing the expansion of cleaner cars across the U.S. The auto industry asked for the changes to meet drivers' growing preference for larger vehicles, but some carmakers, like Ford Motor Co., are opposed to loosening the standards.
"Future changes to the standards will ensure that auto-manufacturers can make cars that consumers both want and can afford. They will also treat all advanced vehicle technologies the same, including the potential of natural gas vehicles and the role of high-octane fuels," the talking points say. "EPA will continue its close partnership with [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to ensure there is adequate consideration of any potential impacts on automobile safety."
The EPA plans come after an April 1 deadline to reopen the standards or leave them alone. That review is the result of negotiations in 2011 between the Obama administration and carmakers, who wanted an opportunity to reassess the standards midway through the rules' lifetime. The standards require cars to drive 36 mpg by 2025.
Now that EPA has decided to change the rules, Trump officials will hammer out a proposal for new standards covering model years 2022 to 2025 in the months to come.
The reversal marks a split with California, which has said it will continue to require cars sold in the state to meet the Obama-era standards. It's using a special waiver under the Clean Air Act to enforce the rules, but it's unclear whether the Trump administration will rescind the waiver. Twelve other states and the District of Columbia are piggybacking on California's special authority.
Key officials from California and the White House are still negotiating a potential deal on the broader standards. EPA said it is still reviewing California's waiver.
The attorneys general for the states relying on California's authority have promised to sue the federal government if it moves to weaken the rules.
President Obama's targets for model years 2022 to 2025 would have saved 540 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and 1.2 billion barrels of oil over their lifetime, according to government estimates.