EPA, DOT Proposes Changes to Fuel Economy Standard

But private transportation experts say there are so many factors involved that the 1,000 lives saved figure is questionable.

UCLA environmental law professor Ann Carlson says California has received almost 100 such waivers under the Clean Air Act to implement its own standards over the past 50 years.

"The EPA has handed decision making over to the fossil fuel lobbyists ... the flat-Earthers, the climate change deniers", said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. The Trump administration's proposed regulation would instead freeze fuel economy requirements at the 2020 level. Electric cars and trucks still account for a tiny fraction of those sold, and driver preference for SUVs, along with relatively low gas prices, have inhibited progress there.

They also said the policy shift would lead to fewer highway deaths by enabling more consumers to afford new vehicles that are safer than those being traded in. Proponents said it would make cars safer and save consumers money.

While the administration supports freezing the mileage standards after 2020, it will seek public comment now on that proposal and a range of others, including leaving the tighter, Obama administration fuel standards in place.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that he would lead a 19-state lawsuit against the proposal once it was finalized.

This week's publication of the proposed rule in the federal register opens up the next legal step in the Trump administration's procession toward undoing the Obama rule.

The new proposal would freeze the increase of average fuel economy standards after 2021 at about 37 mpg.

While the chief executives of auto companies a year ago asked Trump to loosen the Obama-era rules, they have since asked him not to pull them as far back as he has sought to do in Thursday's proposal. And Simon Mui of the Natural Resources Defense Council says they actually want fuel economy to go up.

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A Transportation Department spokesperson called the estimate of job losses "rough approximations". In the end, the White House approved taking a hard line, despite fears of some administration officials that their plan is based on weak evidence that will not hold up under court challenge.

"They don't offer any meaningful example of what has changed so dramatically" to warrant the reversal, said Jeff Alson, who until this spring was a senior engineer in the EPA's transportation and air quality office.

California Gov. Jerry Brown said his state "will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible". The argument remained on the EPA's website Thursday.

CARB Chair Nichols, whose staff has the unenviable task of parsing the almost 1,000-page proposal, said her agency will indeed "figure out how the [Trump] Administration can possibly justify its absurd conclusion that weakening standards to allow dirtier, less efficient vehicles will actually save lives and money". That would price many buyers out of the new-vehicle market, forcing them to drive older, less-safe vehicles that pollute more, the administration says.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), CARB, and auto manufacturers established a unified national program harmonizing greenhouse gas emission standards and fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards, and in 2012 the agencies extended the national program to model years 2017-2025 vehicles. The affordability argument ignores thousands of dollars of saving in fuel costs for each driver over the life of a vehicle, opponents of the rollbacks said.

"For an administration that is happy to let states set their own rules when it comes to weakening environmental protection, it's the height of hypocrisy to deny California and a dozen other states their right to protect their people from global warming", Becker said in a statement.

The administration's proposal could set off a high-stakes legal battle with California and the 13 other states that follow its more stringent rules. The move pits the federal government against California, the country's largest vehicle market. If left alone, the Obama standards would continue to add an additional $2,340 to the average price of a new auto, according to Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

The Obama rules were meant to ensure progress made during the Democrat's presidency would extend beyond it. Automakers over the last decade have employed lighter materials and tweaked vehicle design to boost fuel efficiency, changes that have improved mileage on even the biggest U.S. gas guzzlers.

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