Trump to Undo Vehicle Rules That Curb Global Warming
A highway in Los Angeles last month. The E.P.A. will begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for California that allowed the state to enforce tougher tailpipe standards for its drivers. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is expected to begin rolling back stringent federal regulations on vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming, according to people familiar with the matter, essentially marking a U-turn to efforts to force the American auto industry to produce more electric cars.
The announcement — which is expected as soon as Tuesday and will be made jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the transportation secretary, Elaine L. Chao — will immediately start to undo one of former President Barack Obama’s most significant environmental legacies.
During the same week, and possibly on the same day, Mr. Trump is expected to direct Mr. Pruitt to begin the more lengthy and legally complex process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s rules to cut planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.
The regulatory rollback on vehicle pollution will relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and will not require action by Congress. It will also have a major effect on the United States auto industry.
Under the Obama administration’s vehicle fuel economy standards, American automakers were locked into nearly a decade of trying to design and build ever more sophisticated fuel-efficient vehicles, including electric and hybrid models. The nation’s largest auto companies told Mr. Trump last month that they found those technical requirements too burdensome.
The E.P.A. will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for California that was allowing the state to enforce the tougher tailpipe standards for its drivers.
E.P.A. officials did not respond to emails requesting comment on the move.
On Feb. 21, a coalition of the 17 largest companies that sell cars in the United States sent two letters to Mr. Pruitt, asking him to revisit the tailpipe rules. They said it may be “the single most important decision the E.P.A. has made in recent history.”
They complained about the steep technical challenge posed by the stringent standard, noting that only about 3.5 percent of new vehicles are able to reach it. That even excludes some hybrid cars, plug-in electric cars and fuel cell vehicles, the automakers wrote. “Even today, no conventional vehicle today meets that target.”
The automakers estimated their industry would have to spend a “staggering” $200 billion between 2012 and 2025 to comply and said the tailpipe emissions rule was far more expensive for the industry than enforcing the Clean Power Plan.
Former Obama administration officials and environmentalists denounced Mr. Trump’s expected announcement.
“The rest of the world is moving forward with electric cars. If the Trump administration goes backward, the U.S. won’t be able to compete globally,” said Margo T. Oge, a former senior E.P.A. official and the author of “Driving the Future: Combating Climate Change With Cleaner, Smarter Cars.”
“This means they’ll just keep polluting,” said S. William Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. He also predicted that “if this administration goes after the California waiver, there will be an all-out brawl between Trump and California and the other states that will defend its program.”
The tailpipe pollution regulations were among Mr. Obama’s major initiatives to reduce global warming and were put forth jointly by the E.P.A. and the Transportation Department. They would have forced automakers to build passenger cars that achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, compared with about 36 miles per gallon today.
Eventually achieving those targets would have drastically reduced the nation’s vehicle tailpipe pollution, which accounts for about a third of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions.
Those regulations are locked into place for vehicle model years through 2021, and just before Mr. Trump took office, the E.P.A. put forth a final rule intended to cement them for vehicles built from 2022 through 2025. However, the E.P.A. did not jointly release its plan to do so with the Transportation Department, leaving a legal loophole for the Trump administration to take advantage of.
The E.P.A.’s Clean Power Plan regulations, which would cut climate-warming pollution from power plants, will probably be much harder for Mr. Pruitt to undo. He will have to legally withdraw the existing rule and propose a new rule to replace it, a process that could take up to two years and is expected to be fraught with legal challenges and delays along the way.
The effort to undo the tailpipe standards will be much more legally simple. After withdrawing the Obama administration’s requirement for model years 2022 through 2025, the Trump administration will have a year to put forth an alternative set of efficiency standards, people familiar with the matter said.