WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is poised to roll back ambitious Obama-era vehicle mileage standards and raise the ceiling on damaging fossil fuel emissions for years to come, gutting one of the United States' biggest efforts against climate change.
The Trump administration is expected to release a final rule today on mileage standards through 2026.
The change – making good on the rollback after two years of Trump threatening and fighting states and a faction of automakers that opposed the move – waters down a tough Obama mileage standard that would have encouraged automakers to ramp up production of electric vehicles and more fuel-efficient gas and diesel vehicles.
“When finalized, the rule will benefit our economy, will improve the U.S. fleet's fuel economy, will make vehicles more affordable, and will save lives by increasing the safety of new vehicles,” EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said Monday, ahead of the expected release.
Opponents contend the change – gutting his predecessor's legacy effort against climate-changing fossil fuel emissions – appears driven by Trump's push to undo regulatory initiatives of President Barack Obama, and say even the administration has had difficulty pointing to the kind of specific, demonstrable benefits to drivers, public health and safety or the economy that normally accompany standards changes.
The Trump administration says the looser mileage standards will allow consumers to keep buying the less fuel-efficient SUVs that drivers have favored for years.
Opponents say it will kill several hundred more Americans a year through dirtier air, compared with the Obama standards.
The Trump administration – like others before it – is facing procedural rules that will make changes adopted before the last six months of Trump's current term tougher to throw out, even if the White House changes occupants.
The standards have split the auto industry with Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen siding with California and agreeing to higher standards.
Most other automakers contend the Obama-era standards were enacted hastily and will be impossible to meet because consumers have shifted from efficient cars to SUVs and trucks.
California and about a dozen other states say they will continue resisting the Trump mileage standards in court.
Last year, 72% of the new vehicles purchased by U.S. consumers were trucks or SUVs. It was 51% when the current standards went into effect in 2012.
The Obama administration mandated 5% annual increases in fuel economy.
Leaked versions of the Trump administration's latest proposal show a 1.5% annual increase, backing off from its initial proposal simply to stop mandating increases in fuel efficiency after 2020.