Trump team wants to roll back Obama-era mileage standards

Trump's EPA formally launches attack on California's fuel-economy rules

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the rollback of Obama-era mileage standards would imperil the state's efforts to curb greenhouse gases and clean up some of the nation's most polluted air.

It will escalate the administration's legal battle with California and about a dozen other states that have adopted California's emission rules, and account for about a third of the US auto market.

The 19 states, and Washington D.C, announced they would sue in what is likely to be a heated legal showdown over the proposal.

Heidi King, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the freeze would reduce highway deaths by 1,000 per year "by reducing these barriers that prevent consumers from getting into the newer, safer, cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars". California "will use every legal tool at its disposal to defend today's national standards and reaffirm the facts and science behind them", he said.

"This has to be absolutely one of the most harmful and dumbest actions that the EPA has taken", said Healey of MA, one of the attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia objecting to the change.

The administration said vehicle manufacturers would benefit from the proposed rollback, but the US auto industry is pushing for a negotiated settlement between states and the administration to lift uncertainty over the kinds of cars and trucks it will need to produce for the American market in the coming years.

Last year, President Donald Trump made a similar decision: to abandon the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which many countries agreed to fight the global warming.

It also dovetails with the Republican president's broader effort to unwind green regulation, much of it enacted by Democratic former President Barack Obama's administration, that he views as onerous to business.

The administration has characterized its proposal to freeze fuel efficiency and emissions targets as a step that would save up to 1,000 lives per year, by reducing the cost of new vehicles and encouraging people to buy safer new cars sooner. The administration argues that should make new cars cheaper, and get newer, safer cars on the roads quicker as a result.

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"Weakening the nation's clean vehicle standards will not only cost Rhode Islanders more at the pump, but it's going to hurt children and senior citizens and it's going to hinder our own ability to meet our own emission reduction targets", Healey said.

The administration must gather feedback on the proposal before it is finalized, a process that could take months and that could be further delayed by lawsuits.

It would also put more lives at risk due to asthma-inducing emissions, environmental advocates say. Toyota Motor Corp would save $34 billion and Volkswagen AG $20 billion.

Chet France, an EPA senior executive until his retirement in 2012, called the administration's contention that the mileage freeze would cause only a tiny increase in climate-changing exhaust emissions "bogus".

Trump's decision to challenge California's authority to regulate vehicle emissions upends decades of federal policy that allowed the most populous and richest US state to combat air pollution that particularly afflicts Los Angeles. The state has struggled to rein in vehicle pollution; transportation accounts for the biggest chunk of the state's greenhouse gas emissions and is the only sector where emissions went up in 2016, the most recent data available.

Becerra and attorneys general from 16 other states sued in May to stop the EPA from scrapping standards that would have required vehicles by 2025 to achieve 36 miles per gallon (58 kilometers per gallon) in real-world driving, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) over the existing standards.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a main industry group, sought to stave off any dispute between California and the federal government that could split the USA auto market: "We urge California and the federal government to find a common sense solution that sets continued increases in vehicle efficiency standards while also meeting the needs of American drivers". And that, it said, would get vehicles with the latest technology into the hands of consumers more quickly.

Some middle ground might be possible.

It's got "everything to do with just trying to turn over the fleet. and get more clean and safe cars on the road", EPA assistant administrator Bill Wehrum said.

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