- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Trump administration this week may move closer to undoing yet another of President Obama’s signature environmental achievements as it weighs whether to weaken vehicle fuel economy standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday will hold a public hearing as part of its ongoing review process, which was announced earlier this year at the direction of the president. The agency is considering watering down the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standards, for model years 2022 through 2025. Such action would derail a deal the Obama administration made with automakers that requires the nation’s cars and light trucks get nearly 50 miles per gallon on average by 2025.

Automobiles currently average about 35.3 mpg, and if the current protocol remains in place, that figure will rise annually before hitting its target in 2025.

Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing — a legally necessary proceeding before the EPA can formally change the standards — a host of environmental, scientific and consumer advocacy groups pressed the administration to leave the proposal in place.

“The decision to reopen … the CAFE standards is unnecessary, wasteful and harmful to American interests,” said retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney, CEO of the American Security Project, a non-partisan advocacy group that focuses on national security issues.

Mr. Cheney, like other CAFE proponents, argues that the Obama-era proposal lessens American reliance on foreign oil, and cuts down on carbon emissions linked to climate change.

Supporters of the standards also say that consumers have saved a great deal of money as a result of driving vehicles with greater fuel economy. According to data from the Union of Concerned Scientists, consumers will save nearly $50 billion in fuel costs, by 2030 if the program continues on schedule.

Advocates say there are other key reasons to stay the course.

“The transportation sector is the single largest contributor of carbon pollution in the United States,” Paul Billings, national senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, told reporters Tuesday. “This pollution leads to cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath, even in adults.”

But since March, when Mr. Trump first announced he’d revisit the standards, the administration has argued that the CAFE program needs a second look. The 2022 through 2025 standards were only finalized by the EPA in January, just days before Mr. Obama left office and Mr. Trump assumed power.

Mr. Pruitt and other critics have argued that the standards lead major automakers to build electric cars and other vehicles that consumers don’t want to buy.

“A process of building cars that no one purchases in order to meet these standards that were previously set — actually it’s counter-helpful to the environment, because people don’t buy the new cars,” the EPA chief told ABC News in an interview earlier this year.

When the EPA formally began its review process earlier this year, automobile groups praised the review. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, for example, said the EPA, Transportation Department and other arms of the government were “working closely together to harmonize a review driven by the most current data, consumer preferences and marketplace realities.”

While a decision may not come for a matter of months, it’s already clear that any attempt to weaken the CAFE standards will be met by lawsuits.

“We are prepared to go to court to protect those standards, if necessary,” Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said Tuesday.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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