The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday surprised business groups by rushing out a final study on fuel efficiency standards for automobiles to ensure they stay in place once President-elect Trump comes into office Jan. 20.
The Auto Alliance, the auto industry's lead trade group, said it was the wrong move by the Obama administration, calling the assessment — made before schedule in 2017 — a rush job that they plan to take up with the incoming Trump administration and Congress next year.
"This extraordinary and premature rush to judgment circumvents the serious analysis necessary to make sure the [fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas] standards appropriately balance fuel efficiency, carbon reduction, affordability and employment," the Auto Alliance said.
The EPA midterm assessment of the 2017-25 standards said they would help consumers save money while improving the environment and therefore must continue over the next eight years.
"It's clear from the extensive technical record that this program will remain affordable and effective," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "This proposed decision reconfirms our confidence in the auto industry's capacity to drive innovation and strengthen the American economy while saving drivers money at the pump and safeguarding our health, climate and environment."
The agency will take comment on the assessment until Dec. 30. After that, McCarthy will decide whether she has enough information to make a final determination on the next round of standards for model year 2022-25 cars, the EPA said.
The assessment was supposed to be made next year, with a final decision in 2018, observers point out. But McCarthy appears to want to speed up the process with a final determination before Trump takes office.
"The evidence is abundantly clear that with low gas prices, consumers are not choosing the cars necessary to comply with increasingly unrealistic standards," the alliance said. "Wishing this fact away does no one any favors, and getting this wrong has serious implications."
The EPA's technical evaluation is for the next round of car emission regulations that extend through 2025 and were already finalized in the first half of the president's term. The new round of rules are set to go into effect next year and are a key part of meeting the United States' obligations under the Paris climate change deal.
The EPA evaluation is a midterm review that was included in the regulations. The review was meant to start in 2017 to evaluate whether the regulations are working to improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon pollution that many scientists blame for causing global warming.
From 2017-25, the regulations are meant to improve fuel efficiency in light-duty cars and trucks from about 35 to 54 miles per gallon, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing the development of electric cars and other clean vehicle technologies.
The Commerce Department has shown that consumers have been buying more gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and pickups, making it harder for the auto industry to meet the standards. Those statistics, compiled at the end of last year, jibe with the Auto Alliance's reaction.
Consumer groups and proponents of the regulations told reporters on a call that the Auto Alliance's stance may not be representative of all automakers that support the regulations.
Proponents also said that a Trump administration would likely support the auto standards because they help working Americans save money at the pump and drive job creation.