EPA Rejects Fuel Efficiency Standards, Signals Fight With California

When this photo was taken in 2009, self-driving cars seemed a distant promise. Now they're becoming a new challenge for highway engineers.
California leaders vow a fight to preserve the state's strict tailpipe emissions limits. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday that it has rejected an Obama-era plan to cut tailpipe emissions for cars and light trucks.  The statement also signaled an oncoming legal battle over California's own stricter emissions standards.

"It is in America's best interest to have a national standard," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country."

In response, California officials immediately fired off condemnations of the decision.

“Watch out for this belated April Fools' Day trick," said Governor Jerry Brown in a statement. "This cynical and meretricious abuse of power will poison our air and jeopardize the health of all Americans.”

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols noted that the decision changes nothing in California and the 12 other states with strong emissions standards.

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"This decision takes the U.S. auto industry backward," she said in a statement, "and we will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards and fight to preserve one national clean vehicle program."

The EPA said it completed a review that will affect vehicles for model years 2022-2025 but it did not specify 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’s about 10 mpg over the existing standard.

The decision is part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to dismantle environmental regulations.

Pruit said that the Obama administration cut the rule-making process short for political expediency and "made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”

“The Obama Administration's determination was wrong,” said Pruitt.

Automakers applauded the decision.

“This was the right decision, and we support the Administration for pursuing a data-driven effort and a single national program as it works to finalize future standards,” said Gloria Bergquist, vice president, communications and public affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in a statement.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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