American environmental regulators announced on Monday they will ease emissions standards for cars and trucks, saying that a timeline put in place by President Barack Obama was not appropriate and set standards “too high”.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it completed a review that will affect vehicles for model years 2022-25 but it did not provide details on new standards, which it said would be forthcoming. Current regulations from the EPA require the fleet of new vehicles to get 36 miles per gallon in real-world driving by 2025. That is about 10 mpg over the existing standard.
The agency said in its decision that the regulations set under the Obama government "presents challenges for auto manufacturers due to feasibility and practicability, raises potential concerns related to automobile safety, and results in significant additional costs on consumers, especially low-income consumers".
The EPA, in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will work to come up with new standards.
Car makers applauded Monday's decision, arguing that the current requirements would have cost the industry billions of dollars and raised vehicle prices owing to the cost of developing the necessary technology.
"This was the right decision, and we support the administration for pursuing a data-driven effort and a single national programme as it works to finalise future standards," said Gloria Bergquist, vice president, communications and public affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
“We appreciate that the administration is working to find a way to both increase fuel economy standards and keep new vehicles affordable to more Americans.”
Environmentalists, meanwhile, warned the proposed rollbacks will make US cars more expensive to fill up.
“No one in America is eager to buy a car that gets worse gas mileage and spews more pollution from its tailpipe,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defence Fund.
“Designing and building cleaner, more cost-efficient cars is what helped auto makers bounce back from the depths of the recession and will be key to America’s global competitiveness in the years ahead.”
Any change is likely to set up a lengthy legal showdown with California, which has the power to set its own pollution and petrol mileage standards and does not want them to change. About a dozen other states follow California's rules, and together they account for more than one third of the vehicles sold in the US. Currently the federal and California standards are the same.
Some conservative groups are pressing EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to get rid of the waiver. Mr Pruitt said on Monday that the agency will work with all states, including California, to finalise new standards.
“Co-operative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” he said. “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.”
California attorney general Xavier Becerra said his team is reviewing the EPA’s determination and working closely with the California Air Resources Board.
"We're ready to file suit if needed to protect these critical standards and to fight the administration's war on our environment," Mr Becerra said. "California didn't become the sixth-largest economy in the world by spectating."
Senator Edward J Markey said the existing standards are “technically feasible and economically achievable”, and added that he would use every legislative tool to block the moves.
“Slashing these standards would amount to turning the keys to our energy policy over to Big Oil and the auto industry,” said the Massachusetts Democrat, who is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and chair of the Senate Climate Task Force.
According to Senator Markey, the standards are projected to save nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2030, about as much oil as is imported from Opec countries every day.