Washington — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler defended the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of talks with California about new rules for gas mileage.
Speaking to reporters Thursday at the Washington Auto Show, Wheeler said he is confident the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back stringent rules that would require automakers to produce fleets that average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025 will hold up in court if it is successfully finalized later this year.
“Our goal from the beginning was a 50-state solution,” he said. “I met with (the California Air Resources Board) three times since taking the helm of EPA last July. But despite our best efforts, we could not reach a solution and decided to end the discussions. We embrace federalism and the role of states, but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate the standards for the entire nation.”
Asked what would happen if California proceeds with a lawsuit that has already been filed over the proposal to rule back mileage rules, Wheeler said: “We’ll go to court if they do that. I believe we’re on firm legal footing and I believe that our standards will be upheld by the courts.”
The Trump administration announced last year its intention to ease stringent gas-mileage rules that would have required fleets averaging more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration proposed a freeze in the mandate after 2020, when their lineups must average 39 mpg.
Automakers cheered the decision to reopen the so-called midterm review they were promised when the Obama-era gas mileage rules were agreed to in 2011. But they hoped the Trump administration would quickly reach an agreement with California on a new set of rules to prevent a lengthy legal battle that would leave the mpg requirements for the next half-decade in limbo.
The Trump administration has floated the idea of moving to revoke a longstanding waiver allowing California and other states to set their own stricter auto emissions standards. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have adopted California’s mileage rules, meaning automakers could be left with one set of rules for a quarter of the country and another set for the remaining states.
Revoking California’s waiver, which is ensconced in the Clean Air Act, would require an act of Congress that is unlikely with the U.S. House under Democratic control.
Wheeler said the Trump administration is focused on making sure new cars are affordable enough for consumers to purchase new models that are more fuel-efficient.
“Our overarching goal is to get more Americans into newer, safer, cleaner vehicles,” he said, noting that the average age of a car on U.S. roadways is more than 12 years.
Wheeler touted the EPA’s enforcement actions against automakers that have been investigated for emissions violations. The agency reached an $800 million settlement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles this year to resolve allegations from federal regulators that the company used software on about 104,000 diesel-powered pickups and SUVs that is similar to “defeat devices” used by Volkswagen AG to cheat U.S. emissions-testing.
“We’re committed to vigorously enforcing the nation’s environmental laws,” Wheeler said Thursday. “EPA has stopped the sale of over 1 million after-market defeat devices…In this year alone, we’ve stopped roughly 2,220 illegal vehicles and engines at the border and held the importers and the manufacturers accountable for many more illegal foreign products.”