Democrats opposed to the Trump administration's proposal to freeze fuel efficiency standards have limited options to fight back in the halls and floor of Congress, but the one option they do have comes straight from the GOP deregulatory playbook. Those standards target a doubling of the fuel economy standards to 50 miles per gallon.
The proposal to roll back anti-pollution efforts is in line with President Donald Trump's decision a year ago to abandon the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which countries agreed to take steps to mitigate global warming.
The new proposal, unveiled this week, is essentially a rollback of Obama-era regulations that were created to produce gradual fuel-economy gains and tailpipe-emissions reductions.
Representatives of the US auto industry praised the administration's proposal, even as some automakers privately have expressed unease at the prospect of abrupt changes in fuel standards and having to meet different standards in different states.
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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the rollback would imperil the state's efforts to curb greenhouse gases and clean up some of the nation's most polluted air.
The prospect of an extended legal fight has discomfited automakers, who had asked the administration to relax the Obama-era rules but don't want to see the USA market split in two, with different models of cars required in blue and red states.
Officials said the change to fuel efficiency rules would offer a "much-needed time-out from further costly increases". In addition, it wants to do away with California's exemption to set its own standards.
The administration also served notice that it wants to revoke states' long-standing authority to set their own, stricter mileage standards. Many independent experts are skeptical of these claims. Under the Trump administration's preferred proposal, that would drop to 29.6 miles per gallon, a reduction in nationwide fuel efficiency of about 21 percent.
The Obama administration had planned to keep toughening fuel requirements through 2026, saying those and other regulations on vehicles would save 40,000 lives annually through cleaner air. Securing America's Future Energy, a group dedicated to reducing independence on oil, noted that vehicle prices have actually fallen 3 percent since 2013, even as overall inflation increased 8 percent.
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The EPA contended in a press release on Thursday that the current Obama-era gas mileage standards have been a factor in the rising cost of cars to an average of $35,000, which makes purchasing a new vehicle unaffordable for many Americans. That would price many buyers out of the new-vehicle market, forcing them to drive older, less-safe vehicles that pollute more, the administration says.
The statement said that the two agencies were announcing "a joint proposal to update the national automobile fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards to give consumers greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles, while continuing to protect the environment".
The rollback has provoked outcry from environmental and health groups, as well as states who are pushing for cleaner vehicle fleets. Before a crowd of autoworkers assembled at a decommissioned vehicle factory, Trump said "we're going to work on the CAFE standards so you can make cars in America again".
At the same time, it plans to block California from putting its own mileage standards into place. "We have been steadily increasing the standards... for nearly a decade", said EPA Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum on a call with reporters Thursday.
During an earnings conference call last week, General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra repeatedly emphasised the need for a single national standard on fuel economy.
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