Terry H. Schwadron

July 30, 2018

There is an interesting government mess over whether to allow manufacturers a loophole that allows more highly polluting trucks on the road.

It comes Scott Pruitt has left the Environmental Protection Agency, and against a background over ordering looser car emission restrictions altogether. California has been a leader in suing the federal government over such proposals, setting the stage for car manufacturers to have to make one car model for California and associated states, and one for everyone else.

The latest surprising developments have come from Andrew R. Wheeler,the deputy who took over from the embattled Pruitt. He reversed Pruitt’s order to grant the truck pollution rule. Wheeler’s decision, outlined in a memo to his top air policy staff, vacates the policy Pruitt made on his last day in office, earlier this month, which said that the agency would not enforce a cap on what are known as “glider” trucks — vehicles with older and less efficient engines.

Wheeler said, “I have concluded that the application of current regulations to the glider industry does not represent the kind of extremely unusual circumstances that support the E.P.A.’s exercise of enforcement discretion.” adding that the Pruitt policy might not stand up in court.

The broader picture, as reported by The New York Times, citing 11 sources, is that there are clashes among presidential advisers about letting cars emit more tailpipe pollution. The concerns range from adding that the Pruitt policies on such loopholes might not stand up in court, to concerns about adding air pollution and global warming threats to daring states like California to set their own rules.

California rules are stricter than the federal government’s rules. One of every six new cars are sold in California.

Again, it is Wheeler, the new EPA head, who is trying to stop the proposal, noting that the legal and technical arguments are weak. On the other side, said The Times, are two officials at the Transportation Department, Jeffrey A. Rosen and Heidi King, who wrote the proposal. Rosen is a proponent of de-regulation altogether, and, according to associates cited by The Times, is hoping that any legal appeal will now end up before a Supreme Court that is friendlier to anti-regulatory policies.

There is concern that the proponents are using bad analysis, including accident rates. Somehow, Rosen and King have suggested that stricter Obama-era pollution rules would lead to increased accident deaths from lighter, fuel-efficient cars.

The White House is supposed to announce the proposal this week. Betting is that President Trump will take the Transportation Department side of the argument.

Under the Obama-era rules, automakers would be required to nearly double the fuel economy of passenger vehicles by 2025, achieving an average of about 54 miles per gallon, thus lowering oil consumption and greenhouse-gas pollution and representing the largest-ever move by the United States to combat global warming. The Trump proposal contends that those rules are too costly. The Trump proposal, according to who have seen it, lays out several options for weakening the standard.

California has a waiver under the 1970 Clean Air Act to set its own air pollution regulations, and a dozen other states follow its lead. If the Trump administration loosens federal pollution rules, California has vowed to stick with its own stricter standards and to sue the administration. That fight could, in effect, split the American car market and would set up a huge legal battle that is likely to reach the Supreme Court.

Once the rule is published, citizens can offer public comments before the final rule takes effect later this year.

A Transportation Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record, denied that there is a serious dispute, and said the staffers “have worked amicably” on a proposal “that will aim to save lives, preserve consumer choice and improve the economy.”

The Trump administration identifies as its “preferred option” one that would most dramatically weaken the rule: It would allow mileage standards to rise on the schedule laid out in the Obama rule until 2020, at which point the standard would freeze at roughly 35 miles per gallon. The proposal would also challenge the authority of California and other states to set their own, tougher standards.

No one has mentioned the rising cost of gas fuel, now over $4 a gallon in California.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has said, “The idea we’re going to roll back the auto standards is absurd. We’re not going to do that. We have the legal horsepower to block the immediate legal moves by the Trump administration.” Brown argued that the world auto market, especially China and Europe, demands that U.S. carmakers reduce emissions, not allow more pollution.

U.S. automakers, reeling from the financial crisis and subsequent bailout by taxpayers, agreed to the 2012 rules in part because they set national standards, avoiding the need to manufacture one set of vehicles to meet California’s strict standards, and another set for looser requirements in the remaining U.S. auto market.

There is a chance here to do the right thing and lead in fuel-efficiency methods and good investment in our future. Let’s encourage them to do so.

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terryschwadron.wordpress.com

Journalist, musician, community volunteer