EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suggested Tuesday that he won’t renew Obama-era clean-car rules past 2025, setting up a battle with states such as California that have vowed to keep their own tight emissions limits in place.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Mr. Pruitt said the agency has no plans to extend the program — known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards — past 2025, which is when the current timetable ends.
“Being predictive about what’s going to be taking place out in 2030 is really hard,” he said. “I think it creates problems when you do that too aggressively. That’s not something we’re terribly focused on right now.”
Mr. Pruitt went on say the agency is not “presently” making any plans to write auto standards past 2025, meaning the landmark program in place since 2008 could essentially end.
The Obama administration initially set the 2025 CAFE goal at just over 50 miles per gallon. The number represents the “fleet-wide average” for an auto manufacturer.
The company’s overall fleet must hit that target, and companies also can buy emissions credits if they fail to meet the federal thresholds.
“If you just come in and try to drive this to a point where the auto sector in Detroit just makes cars that people don’t want to purchase, then people are staying in older cars, and the emission levels are worse, which defeats the overall purpose of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.
If the EPA cuts the targets, or takes no action to set new standards post-2025, that will set up a historic clash between the federal government and states such as California that traditionally have established their own strict emissions limits. California accounts for roughly 12 percent of new vehicle registrations annually, giving the state an outsized influence on auto standards and leaving automakers in a difficult position, as mass producing vehicles that don’t meet the state’s emissions laws would be bad business.
The Obama administration aligned federal goals with those of California in 2008, temporarily resolving the conflict. But the Trump administration seems ready to reopen the issue.
“California is not the arbiter of these issues,” Mr. Pruitt said, adding that the state “shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be.”
Critics said the EPA chief is once again threatening to undo a program that’s brought about huge reductions in tailpipe emissions.
“Not only does Scott Pruitt want to put the brakes on these important standards, he’s even going so far as to try to limit a state’s right to manage air pollution within its own borders,” said Andrew Linhardt, deputy legislative director at the Sierra Club. “These clean car standards are popular among the public, and they’re working. Rolling them back would increase air pollution, threaten our climate, and cost American consumers. The only people who would benefit from this backwards policy are car manufacturing executives who want to put America’s climate progress in reverse.”
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