Bipartisan Senate Bill Tweaks Fuel Efficiency Standards

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By David Schultz

A bipartisan Senate bill meant to standardize the federal government’s regulation of fuel efficiency in cars and trucks would effectively loosen the efficiency standards that apply to automakers, allowing them to build and sell larger vehicles, according to environmentalists.

The bill, S. 1273, was introduced May 25 by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). It has the backing of both of the Democrats who represent Michigan as well as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and two other Republican senators.

“This legislation would align the existing regulatory programs, helping automakers meet the standards of each program while satisfying consumer demand for affordable family vehicles,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) told Bloomberg BNA in an email.

‘Very Obscure’

But that’s not how Jack Gillis, head of public affairs at the Consumer Federation of America, sees it. He and other environmental activists say that, under the guise of harmonizing regulations, the bill actually would give car makers the green light to sell less fuel efficient vehicles than are allowed under the current regime.

At face value, the Blunt bill tweaks the Environmental Protection Agency’s method for calculating the average fuel efficiency of a car maker’s entire fleet of vehicles, raising a cap on the amount of credits car makers receive for designing highly efficient vehicles. Gillis said this would bring the way the EPA awards these credits in line with the way credits are granted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which also regulates fuel efficiency.

But Gillis said this is misleading. “It’s very obscure as to what [the bill is] trying to do here,” he told Bloomberg BNA. “Under the guise of harmonization, which is a good thing, this is effectively rolling back some of the requirements by virtue of giving more credits than we think they should be.”

Blunt’s office did not respond to requests for more information on the legislation.

More Attention on Cars

The bill is the latest sign that Republicans, both in Congress and in the executive branch, are paying more attention to the way the EPA regulates fuel efficiency.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced that his administration would revisit his predecessor’s decision to maintain the EPA’s companywide efficiency target at 54.5 miles per gallon, or its equivalent, through 2025. The auto industry had been lobbying the Obama administration to relax this target, which was initially set in 2012.

Wade Newton, a spokesman with the industry group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says the Blunt bill preserves the environmental benefits of the EPA’s efficiency program while making life simpler for the companies he represents.

“There are still separate regulatory programs, created under separate statutes, managed by separate regulatory agencies,” he said in an email. “Automakers could comply with requirements under the EPA program and still face fines from NHTSA for the same product portfolio because of the different structure.”

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schultz in Washington at dSchultz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Environment & Energy Report