President Donald Trump says he is throwing out former President Barack Obama's executive order ending a review of the tough fuel economy standards for new U.S.-built cars and trucks.
Trump made his announcement Wednesday before an audience of auto workers in Ypsilianti, Michigan, where he declared that the "assault on the American auto industry is over."
"My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate the industry-killing regulations, to lower the job-crushing taxes and to ensure a level playing field for all American companies and workers,'' he said.
Trump was expected to set aside the fuel economy standards approved in 2012 and to be gradually increased to 23 kilometers per liter of gasoline by 2025.
Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency will review those standards by an April 2018 deadline to see, in the words of EPA chief Scott Pruitt, "that this national program is good for consumers and good for the environment."
The White House contends Obama broke an earlier agreement with the auto industry to review the standards by 2018. Advocates of the tougher standards dispute that.
The year 2018 "was the deadline by which they were obligated to complete the review. No agreement was broken," Therese Langer, transportation program director at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) told VOA News.
“The agencies completed a comprehensive technical assessment report in July 2016, which made clear that the standards as adopted remained feasible and cost-effective. At that point, making the decision promptly was consistent with the goal of providing adequate lead time for manufacturer product planning.”
The Trump administration wants to set standards “that are technologically and economically feasible,” according to the official who briefed reporters on condition he not be named.
Some automakers argue that the tougher standards will mean consumers would have to pay thousands of dollars extra for a new car.
But the administration cannot scrap the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate completely without Congress' consent. Lawmakers originally approved the CAFE regulations in the mid-1970s, following the oil embargo by OPEC members.
The current issue deals with rules on fuel economy and emissions affecting automobiles that will appear in showrooms from the years 2022 through 2025.
The proposed vehicle standards for those model years “will save consumers tens of billions of dollars at the pump and help domestic automakers stay competitive in a global vehicle market that is moving steadily toward highly efficient vehicles,” ACEEE executive director Steve Nadel told VOA.
But the move to cars and trucks that do not rely on conventional fossil fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, has slowed, say those in the Trump administration and in the auto industry.
“Because we have low gas prices, consumers just aren’t buying those vehicles” that run on batteries in addition to or instead of fuel, said the Trump administration official briefing reporters at the White House.
One hitch for the industry and other proponents of the looser standards is that 13 states say they will follow California in adhering to stricter fleet fuel efficiencies – a market that makes up more than 40 percent of the U.S. automotive sales market.
“That’s an issue we’ll have to confront, but it’s farther down the road,” the senior White House official said when asked about that issue by reporters.
California and New York are intervening in a lawsuit filed by auto manufacturers that seeks to set aside the existing EPA regulations because, the suit contends, the emission standards aren't realistic.
California Governor Jerry Brown also sent a letter to the EPA's Pruitt calling the announced effort to rollback standards "an unconscionable gift to polluters."
"Once again, you've put the interests of big oil ahead of clean air and politics ahead of science," Brown wrote.
Brown's letter also said that EPA research suggests the current emission targets for 2022-2025 would save consumers more than $1,650 per vehicle, drastically cut oil consumption and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by more than 500 million metric tons.
VOA’s Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.