White House weighs big cuts to mpg rules

NHTSA is looking at a range of options to lower future fuel economy and emissions targets, including one that would permit an average fleetwide fuel economy standard of 35.7 miles per gallon by 2026, down from the 46.6 miles per gallon under rules charted by the Obama administration. Photo credit: DAVID PHILLIPS

The Trump administration is looking at ways to reduce future fuel economy standards for automobiles in a move to appease carmakers, who have asked to ease future targets put in place under President Barack Obama

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking at a range of options to lower future targets, including one that would permit an average fleetwide fuel economy standard of 35.7 miles per gallon by 2026, down from the 46.6 miles per gallon under rules charted by the Obama administration, according to a draft NHTSA analysis obtained by Bloomberg News.

Under that scenario, the agency projects an estimated 10 percent of new cars and light trucks sold in 2030 would need to be hybrid or plug-in electric to comply with the standards. That compares to 61 percent under the Obama-era proposal, according to the document.

The draft analysis, dated January 22, outlines several alternatives to NHTSA fuel economy standards for upcoming model years that were charted during the Obama administration. Other scenarios offer less aggressive cuts to future standards. The document does not specify a preferred scenario.

The draft also indicates NHTSA may propose standards for as early as the 2021 model year and as far in the future as model year 2026, giving automakers additional time to achieve reductions in fuel consumption.

The documents provide a glimpse into negotiations now going on between NHTSA, the EPA and California regulators over the fate of one of the Obama administration’s signature environmental policies. At the end of March, NHTSA plans to begin the process of putting rules in place that will set new fuel economy rules for 2022-25.

The proposal could set the Trump administration on a collision course with California regulators, who have vowed to defend their own efficiency standards. Automakers are hoping to maintain consistent standards nationwide, which would require federal regulators and state officials to agree on any changes to the rules. Failing to strike a deal could lead to a messy court battle and leave industry rules under a cloud of uncertainty.

Requests for comment left with NHTSA and Transportation Department spokeswomen were not returned late Friday.

NHTSA’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards were first enacted in the aftermath of the 1973 Arab oil embargo. In 2009, they were linked with tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions standards set by the EPA and the California Air Resources Board under a deal brokered by the Obama administration.

Automakers in 2011 again agreed to a trio of coordinated rules overseen by the EPA, NHTSA and the California Air Resources Board that get more stringent each year, and extended them until 2025 when they arrive at a fleet average of more than 50 miles per gallon. That’s equivalent to about 36 miles per gallon in real-world driving.

Automakers have aggressively lobbied President Donald Trump to take a new look at the standards that they say need adjustments in light of surging light-truck sales, low gasoline prices and tepid demand for plug-in vehicles.

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