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California threatens split with EPA on fuel-economy

06 Sep 2017 18:11 (+01:00 GMT)
California threatens split with EPA on fuel-economy

Washington, 6 September (Argus) — California regulators are warning the state may set its own fuel-economy standards for cars and pickup trucks if the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempts to weaken rules that apply nationwide.

The state would even give "serious consideration" to making its fuel-economy regulations more stringent if EPA revisits its 13 January decision to retain national standards set to apply through 2025, California Air Resources Board automotive chief of emissions compliance Annette Hebert said today at a public hearing in Washington, DC.

California's threat to set its own rules would complicate the auto industry's push to weaken EPA regulations that are projected to lift fuel-economy of an average model year 2025 vehicle to 51.4 miles/USG, up from 36.6 miles/USG today. The industry wants for a single national program to avoid having to manufacture different vehicles for different states.

EPA scheduled the hearing to collect input on its proposal to reconsider a "mid-term review" completed in the final weeks of former president Barack Obama's administration. EPA in that review found that fuel-economy standards for model year 2022-25 vehicles remained "feasible, practical and appropriate" and should not be revised.

But after President Donald Trump took office, automakers argued the review was rushed and failed to account for shifting consumer preferences for large cars and pickup trucks that are less efficient. EPA in response agreed to revisit the mid-term review and expand it to include model year 2021 vehicles.

Critics say weakening the regulations would reduce billions of dollars in fuel savings to consumers, increase greenhouse gas emissions and make the US more reliant on oil imports. Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) said today that keeping the regulations intact would reduce oil demand by 2.5mn b/d and reduce the effect of future fuel price spikes on consumers.

Automakers at the hearing reiterated their hope that EPA revisit the mid-term review but cautioned against the loss of a national fuel-economy standard. Industry trade group Global Automakers director of environment and energy affairs said having different programs was "simply unworkable."

EPA could potentially revoke a waiver that has allowed California to set its own fuel-economy standards, if the state follows through on its threat, but doing so would result in a major legal fight. Even if EPA begins to revisit its review, the agency would have to propose a new regulation setting revised standards.