Future Fuel Standards in Question

Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 3.14.22 PM.png

In 2012, during an otherwise quiet week in August, the Obama administration implemented a new rule requiring automakers to nearly double the fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 2025. The new standard would set the future average at 54.5 miles per gallon by the 2025 model year, an increase from 29.

At the time, this was a critical achievement for the administration and welcome news for environmental organizations and those concerned about the health of the planet. But as of August 2018, the new rule is facing a potential rollback. As expected, environmentalists and human health advocates are naturally concerned about the impact of weaker fuel standards on pollution and climate-warming carbon emissions. And as of this week, these groups are finding unlikely allies in the auto industry.

They’re also finding alliances among individual states—specifically California—because a rollback of the rule will also roll back the ability of states to set their own fuel efficiency standards. California is already planning to fight the change in court, and if it succeeds, automakers will need to deal with two separate sets of efficiency standards (more if additional states end up setting their own rules as well).

The administration has based its justification for the rollback on questionable legal grounds (most notably, the false assertion that higher fuel standards will make automobiles unsafe, because owners will hold onto cars longer before upgrading them). So win or lose, court challenges are likely to test this foundation and ensnare the measure in court for months to come.

The new proposal aims to do two things: 1) halt the increase of average fuel standards in 2021 at 37 miles per gallon (instead of increasing to 54.5), and 2) revoke the waivers that now allow California and 13 other states to set their own standards.

The weakest point in the safety- based argument for lower fuel standards will likely be challenged by a 2012 analysis of the same rule, which came to the opposite conclusion: tighter fuel standards will actually reduce auto casualties and save over 100 lives within the next 13 years.

Fearing regulatory uncertainty and the possibility of separate fuel standards required by different states, several automakers are choosing not to back the rollback efforts. The American Petroleum Institute has not yet produced a public statement.