March 21, 2017: Saying goodbye to fuel economy standards, CRAZY proposed budget cuts for EPA


EPA announces that it will revisit standards on auto emissions and fuel economy for cars and light trucks

Under President Obama, EPA issued a rule that mandated that cars and light-duty trucks reach 54.5 mpg by the year 2025. This was a key part of the Obama administration’s approach to combating climate change and was often forgotten relative to EPA’s Clean Power Plan. On March 15, EPA and DOT issued a statement announcing that their agencies would work on rewriting that rule. EPA administrator Pruitt called the previous auto standards “costly for automakers and the American people”. All signs point to the administration nixing any mandated increases in fuel efficiency standards.

The status of the State of California greatly complicates this move. California has a special waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it to exceed federal standards on automobile emissions. It is possible that the waiver will be rescinded, but if California is able to mandate higher-efficiency vehicles, the market power of the state has the potential to inflate fuel-economy standards everywhere. Therefore, the Trump administration’s regulatory re-evaluation may not matter if California is able to keep its higher standards.


On Friday March 24, the California Air Resources Board approved a review of its current automobile standards, which will remain in place through the year 2025. The auto standards, according to Scientific American, mandate that automobile manufacturers looking to sell cars in the state must “produce an increasing percentage of zero-emissions vehicles… and cut tailpipe greenhouse gas and particulate emissions”. Unless Trump’s EPA acts to challenge this assertion, California will likely continue to inflate auto emissions standards nationwide. 


Trump’s desired budget cuts to EPA, Interior clarified… but will they happen?

On Thursday, March 16th, the White House released a 62-page budget outline for FY2018. The budget includes draconian cuts to EPA, the Interior Department, and the USDA coupled with significant increases in military & defense spending.

The budget proposes a $2.6 billion cut to EPA. This includes the elimination of 3,200 jobs and the closure of two district offices, which are instrumental in overseeing and implementing federal policies in coordination with the states. The cuts are aimed at a number of key EPA programs: it would “discontinue” funding for Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, dramatically reduce money for Superfund cleanup sites (which Scott Pruitt listed as an EPA priority), reduce money for EPA enforcement (likely to allow states more leeway over certain issue areas), along with the elimination or reduction of a large number of other national and regional programs. This is a radical policy proposal, and has received a LOT of push back from civil society and from Democrats. The DOI faces a smaller, but still significant 12 percent reduction in its budget.  The proposed budget slashes programs acquiring new public lands, various land management programs, and smaller land conservation departments. This all seems to be a path towards less federal control over public lands via a weakened Interior Department.

This budget, as it stands, will not pass.

Congressional Republicans do love to cut EPA and they will cut EPA. However, this is an incredibly radical slash to EPA, an agency that must carry out basic environmental enforcement measures. It will be very interesting to watch the budget as it gets passed back and forth between Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House. Republicans may try to take the middle ground and appear to be sane by rejecting Donald Trump’s proposed budget plans. However, I fully expect to see significant cuts to climate change and renewable programs so long as Republicans hold power in Washington. What they choose to leave out of the budget will be the real story.


Trump poised to sign a BIG executive order rolling back power plant rules, other climate change protections

All signs pointed to the signing of a new executive order rolling back climate and energy rules last week (March 13), but that didn’t happen. This strategy seems to be a hallmark of this administration; they hint at changes and then wait to execute them. Regardless, news sources predict that the order will direct EPA to rewrite Obama’s Clean Power Plan, allow coal plant leasing on federal lands, and revise the ways that climate is factored into decision-making in federal agencies (likely through a review of the incredibly important Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) metric). This will be, in my mind, the single biggest piece of environmental policy coming out of the administration to date. As this happens, i will be sure to cover the details of the administration’s approach and its implications.

Something Interesting

A handful of House Republicans introduced a Resolution that calls on the chamber to engage in “conservative environmental stewardship”. The Resolution recognizes that environmental problems like climate change exist and are bad, and calls for conservative private and public sector solutions to existing problems. This will not be passed by the House as doctrine, but it is interesting to see that there is a small constituency of Republicans favoring climate protection policies.


Author: Jared Sousa

Macalester College '2017, Political Science and Environmental Studies

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