Auto CEOs Ask Trump to Revisit Obama-era Fuel Efficiency Rules

  • Appeal aims to resume review that carmakers say was cut short
  • Environmental group calls it ‘first step’ to weaker standards

The chief executives of 18 automakers asked President Donald Trump to reinstate a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review of fuel efficiency regulations through 2025 that they say was unfairly cut short during the final days of the Obama administration.

In a Feb. 10 letter, executives including Mary Barra of General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co.’s Mark Fields and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV boss Sergio Marchionne asked Trump to return the review to its original schedule, giving the new administration a chance to shape the outcome.

“As recently as late last fall, EPA assured us that the MTR would not result in a final determination before the next administration came into office,” the executives said in the letter, referring to a mid-term review of the regulations.

Automakers agreed to the 2025 efficiency rules in 2011 in a landmark deal brokered by the Obama administration to boost fuel economy to a fleet average of more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. The deal aligned greenhouse gas limits set by the EPA and California’s Air Resources Board with fuel economy regulations governed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Part of the deal included a mid-term review to determine whether the final years of the program, the 2022-2025 model years, were feasible. Automakers say falling gasoline prices have squelched demand for the most fuel-efficient vehicles, making achieving the standards more difficult.

NHTSA’s portion of the review is ongoing. It must issue fresh rules by 2020 setting fuel economy standards from 2022 through 2025.

No Changes

Just a week before Trump took office, the EPA concluded its portion of the review, more than a year before an April 2018 deadline. It found that the standards for greenhouse gas emissions through 2025 didn’t require any changes.

The agency said extensive analysis and data review, including a report of more than 1,000 pages analyzing the feasibility of the rules last summer, found no evidence that the rules needed to be amended.

Automakers criticized the ruling as a political move to lock in the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions standards, a key piece of President Barack Obama’s legacy on environmental policy, before Trump took office.

Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the letter from the executives reflects the industry’s desire to “put the review back on track and have the data drive the outcome” of the analysis.

‘Truncated’ Process

“What we’re really trying to do is just restore the process, and because the process was truncated, we don’t really know what the standards should be,” Bergquist said. The Washington-based alliance represents the Detroit Three and nine other automakers.

Roland Hwang, director of energy and transportation at the Natural Resources Defense Council, criticized the request.

“We view this as the first step in the automakers’ attempt to weaken common-sense fuel efficiency and pollution standards, which would raise drivers’ fuel bills and threaten investments and jobs in clean-car technologies,” Hwang said in a statement.

The plea from the executives comes after Trump made the auto industry a major focus of his first days as president. After a Jan. 24 meeting with Barra, Marchionne and Fields, Trump vowed to ease regulatory burdens to lure more car factories to the U.S., calling environmental rules “out of control.”

“We are committed to continued gains in fuel efficiency and carbon reduction,” the executives said in their letter. “At the same time, ignoring consumer preferences and market realities will drive up costs for buyers and threaten future production levels.”

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