Environmentalists are pointing to newly released documents as further proof the Trump administration is making a bad decision in seeking to ease toughening fuel-economy rules.
The internal documents show disagreements between the nation’s top environmental regulator, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Transportation Department’s auto safety arm, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when it comes to drafting a new policy over fuel economy.
In one June 18 memo, for instance, the EPA quibbles with the expected benefits of the proposed standards. It states elements of them are “detrimental to safety, rather than beneficial.” The agency also questioned some of the facts and statistics underlying NHTSA’s proposal to lower the standards.
The documents were made public on a government website that tracks the evolution of regulations.
Environmentalists seized on the documents as proof that the underlying data on which the rules are being relaxed is flawed.
“NHTSA appears to have twisted their analysis to support a pre-determined outcome to rollback the standards,” said Roland Hwang, a managing director for the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Energy Program. “At every turn, NHTSA appears to have picked the most extreme assumptions that strain credulity, especially in the cases of cost and safety.”
Another environment advocate, Andrew Linhardt, deputy director of the Sierra Club, said the documents “ignored all the evidence showing the health and safety benefits of the Clean Car standards in favor of destroying clean air and healthy communities.”
He said in a statement that Andrew Wheeler, the EPA’s acting administrator, should yank the proposed new rule and “focus on strengthening the standards — as the people and facts support — rather than continue with this charade.”
Earlier this month, the Trump administration proposed freezing Obama-era fuel efficiency standards rather than continuing to make them tougher. It argued that smaller vehicles aren’t as safe as bigger ones that typically burn more fuel. It also said that tougher fuel efficiency standards will make cars more expensive, and that if they cost less, more people will replace their current vehicles with those equipped with the latest safety technology.
The Obama administration set targets that included the U.S. fleet of cars having average fuel economy of 41.7 miles per gallon by the 2020 model year and 54.5 mpg by 2025. Many automakers have supported the move to freeze fuel efficiency standards in order to make new vehicles more affordable.
Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, said the figures underpinning the administration’s arguments are “flimsy” and that “they use very aggressive numbers.”