Senate Reviewing Bill To Streamline Federal Fuel Economy and Emissions Rules

U.S. senators are attempting to reconcile differences in fuel economy rule enforcement held between two federal agencies.

Sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo), the bill filed on Thursday hopes to streamline differing compliance guidelines that federal fuel economy and emissions rules are set to achieve through enforcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Called the Fuel Economy Harmonization Act, the bill backers hope to clean up conflicts between NHTSA’s corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) program and the EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions rules.

Much of it is based on credits for reducing emissions on vehicles earned after the 2009 model year to help meet federal emission standards for model years between 2016 through 2021. The current rules allow automakers to make up for credit deficits with credits anticipated in future years or through credits purchased from other automakers. For those automakers missing the targets, fines will be applied of $5.50 for each one-tenth of a mile per gallon that their average falls short of the national standard for that model year. That would be multiplied by the number of vehicles sold under the regulations.

Supporters of the measure, especially automakers, want to see both NHTSA and EPA follow the same guidelines for reaching the mileage mandate by 2025. Critics of the measure, including environmental groups and consumer advocates, say that the new measure would unnecessarily weaken mileage and emissions targets by giving automakers too many credits for previously achieved mpg improvements.

“The conflicting fuel economy standards that are currently in place at NHTSA and EPA drive up manufacturing costs, which are ultimately passed on to consumers,” Blunt said. “This bill gets us closer to one national fuel economy standard program that meets the goals of both the NHTSA and EPA programs in a less costly, more efficient way. It is a bipartisan, commonsense step we can take to lower costs and boost U.S. auto manufacturing.”

The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, the largest of the automaker advocacy groups, sees the new bill going in the right direction and would keep consumers from having to pay higher prices for cars.

The Natural Resources Defense Council sees it as a pushback on the federal government’s clean-car technology and fuel economy standards that it believes to be reducing pollution and saving consumers money at the gas pump.

The Consumers Union has taken a similar viewpoint.

“Americans who depend on larger vehicles and trucks for work or family needs would suffer most. Our research has shown that under current standards, truck and SUV owners would save $4,800 over the life of their vehicle. These savings are likely to be much lower if this draft bill is approved,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports.

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The Obama administration had introduced the program in 2009 as one national program. It was implemented during 2012 with the mandate of automakers hitting the 54.5 mpg by 2025, with acknowledgement that the actual sticker price average would be closer to the high-30s in mpg reached by that year.

The Trump administration now has it under review for its second phase covering model years 2022 to 2025. The decision to reopen review through April 2018 reversed a last-minute move by the Obama administration before leaving office that finalized the EPA’s rule.

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