Just before Donald Trump was sworn into office, the Environmental Protection Agency did something a little unusual. It finalized emissions rules for U.S. vehicles through the 2025 model-year, and it did so much faster than expected.
Now, 18 car companies are asking Trump and his team to review and potentially undo the EPA's actions.
Oh, what a difference a few years can make.
The EPA first unveiled benchmarks for reducing auto emissions back in 2011. In tandem with the EPA's plan, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration debuted some aggressive fuel economy goals for the 2025 model-year, which set a target of 54.5 mpg for ever automaker's U.S. fleet.
Generally speaking, companies were comfortable with the two proposals, particularly U.S. automakers. That's because the regulations carved out separate standards for larger vehicles like trucks and SUVs, which Detroit produces in large quantities. Automakers like Volkswagen that relied more heavily on cars were far less enthusiastic about the new rules, but the Obama administration approved them anyway.
Three years later, though, gas prices began to tumble, and that made automakers nervous. As gas prices fell, fuel economy became less important to consumers, and car companies began to wonder if the EPA's regulations would force them to create fuel-efficient vehicles that no one really wanted to buy.
Concerns like that were frequently expressed during the EPA's recent mid-term review of the regulations. However, the EPA stuck to its guns and made no substantive changes to its plans. Last December, the agency began accepting public comments on those plans, but at the end of the 30-day comment period, the EPA confirmed that it would stay the course for model years 2022-2025.
At that point, the EPA had until April 2018 to sign off on its plan, but the agency didn't wait that long. Just days before Trump took office--15 months ahead of the deadline--the EPA formalized its decision to keep the regs in place.
Where we are now
Automakers like Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler have joined their peers at Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, Nissan, Hyundai, and other companies in asking Trump and his team to review the EPA's decision. While they insist that they're not asking for an immediate reversal of the emissions plan, they want officials to look over the agency's decision-making process.
Automakers have claimed that the regulations could hamper the U.S. auto industry. Ford CEO Mark Fields has gone much, much further, saying that the guidelines could cost America 1 million jobs (though his claims have been pretty solidly debunked).
Trump's nominee to lead the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has said that he intends to review the decision. However, undoing the regs could prove tricky--and even if Pruitt manages to do so, other forces might keep automakers on track to cut emissions and boost fuel economy.
For more on this, be sure to check out our colleagues at Green Car Reports.