President Donald Trump is to tell American autoworkers Wednesday in the state of Michigan that he is setting aside strict fuel-economy requirements imposed by the previous administration in its waning days.
The Trump White House contends that action broke an earlier agreement with the auto industry to wait until 2018 to review the standards.
“The auto industry, rightly, cried foul,” a senior White House official told reporters Tuesday. “We’re going to get this midterm review back on track.”
Advocates of the tougher standards dispute that.
The year 2018 “was the deadline by which they were obligated to complete the review. No agreement was broken,” Therese Langer, transportation program director at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) told VOA News.
“The agencies completed a comprehensive technical assessment report in July 2016, which made clear that the standards as adopted remained feasible and cost-effective. At that point, making the decision promptly was consistent with the goal of providing adequate lead time for manufacturer product planning.”
The Trump administration wants to set standards “that are technologically and economically feasible,” according to the official who briefed reporters on condition he not be named.
Some automakers argued that the tougher standards, set just prior to the January inauguration, will be too costly.
The pro-business president and his new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who has expressed skepticism about the scientific consensus on climate change, support rolling back the stricter standards.
But the administration cannot scrap the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate completely without Congress’ consent. Lawmakers originally approved the CAFE regulations in the mid-1970s, following the oil embargo by OPEC members.
The current issue deals with rules on fuel economy and emissions affecting automobiles that will appear in showrooms from the years 2022 through 2025.
The proposed vehicle standards for those model years “will save consumers tens of billions of dollars at the pump and help domestic automakers stay competitive in a global vehicle market that is moving steadily toward highly efficient vehicles,” ACEEE executive director Steve Nadel told VOA.
But the move to cars and trucks that do not rely on conventional fossil fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, has slowed, say those in the Trump administration and in the auto industry.
“Because we have low gas prices, consumers just aren’t buying those vehicles” that run on batteries in addition to or instead of fuel, said the Trump administration official briefing reporters at the White House.
Trump’s trip to Michigan will include meetings with Detroit automakers, suppliers and unions, and then attending a rally of automakers.
At the last event Wednesday, the president is to announce his intention to stall the goal of having a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon (23.2 kilometers per liter) by the year 2025.
One hitch for the industry and other proponents of the looser standards is that 13 states say they will follow California in adhering to stricter fleet fuel efficiencies – a market that makes up more than 40 percent of the U.S. automotive sales market.
“That’s an issue we’ll have to confront, but it’s farther down the road,” the senior White House official said when asked about that issue by reporters.