EPA sticks with tough 2025 fuel economy standards

Photo (c) iQoncept - Fotolia

Cheap gas has led consumers to buy more SUVs and trucks, thwarting clean-air goals

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sticking with its aggressive fuel-economy standards, though for how long no one knows. President-elect Trump's reported candidates to head the agency aren't fans of renewable energy and are skeptical about climate change.

Trump has called the EPA the source of "our most intrusive regulations." His two leading candidates for the EPA job are thought to be Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), who has been involved in the legal fight against the Obama administration's signature climate rule, and former Texas environmental regulator Kathleen Hartnett White, who has called for restraining "the imperial EPA." 

In July, the EPA said the 54.5 miles-per-gallon goal it has set for 2025 was looking less realistic, not because automakers can't build fuel-efficient cars but because consumers keep buying SUVs and other light trucks, which tend to be gas-hogs.

On a July conference call with reporters, senior Obama administration officials said the 54.5 mpg goal was never a mandate but more of an estimate of where the industry could meet by the 2025 model year -- based on an assumption that 67 percent of the market would be cars and 33 percent would be SUVs and trucks. 

But today, the EPA said the "2022-2025 standards remain appropriate and that a rulemaking to change them is not warranted." It said the decision was based on "input from the auto industry and other stakeholders, and updated analyses."

Staying the course

Environmental and consumer groups applauded the EPA's decision.

“The EPA’s proposal to maintain robust fuel economy standards is a big win for consumers,” said Shannon Baker–Branstetter, energy policy counsel for Consumers Union. “Strong fuel economy standards means consumers will have a greater choice of vehicles to meet their family’s needs, while saving money on fuel costs and protecting against future gas price shocks.”

“Today EPA made sure that automakers keep delivering cars that are exponentially less polluting and more efficient,” said Aminah Zaghab, Global Warming Solutions advocate with Environment America. “Transportation is the number one source of global warming pollution in this country. Today’s announcement protects our health and environment by ensuring our cars will get much cleaner over the coming years.”

The Consumer Federation of American (CFA) said it believes that today’s decision by the EPA to maintain current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards will go a long way towards protecting both consumer pocketbooks and U.S. car company competitiveness.

“The biggest beneficiaries of the current fuel-efficiency standards are the ‘forgotten Americans.’ The average household spends about $1,500 a year on gasoline. By maintaining these standards, the hard working, economically struggling, American households will be the beneficiaries,” said Jack Gillis, CFA’s auto expert and author of The Car Book. “Not maintaining the standards would place a huge burden on middle class Americans.”

“What is particularly remarkable about the standards is that they pay for themselves in the very first month of car ownership,” said Dr. Mark Cooper, CFA’s Director of Research.  “The cost of the technology needed to meet the standard is outweighed by the pocketbook savings in gasoline costs even at today’s low gas prices. As the cost of gas goes up, these savings will multiply.”

A series of consumer surveys have found that a majority of Americans want fuel-efficient vehicles. The latest study, released in March 2016, found that, in spite of current low gas prices, 81 percent of consumers said they support federal fuel economy standards.

“These standards, which are supported by 13 of the 14 major automakers, have been in place since 2012,” said Gillis. “They’ve been achieved faster, and cheaper than anyone thought possible. By staying the course, the president-elect would continue this wining trend, achieving savings for the consumers who need it most and keeping U.S. car companies competitive.”

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