The battle over US fuel efficiency standards is likely to be a long and complex one. The new administration has made its zeal for rolling back environmental regulations clear, and that’s music to the ears of automakers, which have devoted much time and treasure over the years to watering down existing and proposed standards.
The president’s recent announcement that he would order a review of the EPA’s efficiency standards for 2022-2025 has led many to predict that a major rollback is in the offing. However, things may not be that simple. California has its own set of rules, and the state is already gearing up for a legal battle to defend its tougher standards. New York and other states that follow California’s regulations may also join the fray.
Furthermore, carmakers may not actually want to see a wholesale dismantling of the regulatory structure – they have already invested billions in improving their vehicles’ efficiency, and what they really need is a consistent set of rules – preferably ones that are uniform for all 50 states – to guide their strategy for the future.
Now an auto industry trade group has signaled that it could reach a deal with California and the administration that won’t involve a rollback of existing standards.
“What we want is rational, predictable, stable policy,” said Mitch Bainwol, Chief Executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “The talk of the rollback is fallacious. What we are talking here is the nature of the slope. We will get to the Obama numbers [which call for doubling average fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025]. We will get beyond the Obama numbers. The question is when and how.”
The White House plans to hold negotiations with the car companies and California regulators, so stay tuned.