The EPA explains the previous administration set the standards too high.
The American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will lower fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks built between model years 2022 and 2025. It could also revoke the waiver that allows California to set its own standards.
"The Obama Administration's determination was wrong. 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," EPA administrator Scott Pruitt wrote in a statement.
The standards Pruitt canceled called for dramatically increasing the average fuel efficiency of new cars and light trucks to about 50 mpg. Last January, the EPA tentatively pegged 2017's average at 25.2 mpg. The agency hasn't revealed details about the new standards, though we'll learn more in the coming months.
Pruitt added his team will examine the waiver that lets California regulators set their own pollution standards. They're stricter than the federal standards and they're adopted by several other states, including New York and Massachusetts. The EPA could make California play by Washington's rules by revoking its waiver.
"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," Pruitt said.
California has vowed to fight back.
"[California] will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards," promised Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), in an interview with Reuters.
Failure to find a common ground could ultimately force auto-makers down the expensive, time-consuming path of building two variants of the same car: one that complies with California regulations, and one for the rest of the country.
This already happened in the 1970s, when some California-spec cars came with additional smog equipment like air pumps while 49-state cars didn't. We saw another wave of California-only models in the early 2010s, when car companies needed to sell so-called compliance electric cars to meet the zero-emissions requirement and keep doing business in the state.
As of writing, auto manufacturers haven't commented on the EPA's announcement.
Photo by Ronan Glon.