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As expected, Scott Pruitt, the rogue administrator of the EPA, has decided to soften US emissions and fuel economy regulations as requested by US automakers. So what happens now?

Clean Transport

Greedy Automakers Want Stable Emissions Rules But Get Chaos Instead

As expected, Scott Pruitt, the rogue administrator of the EPA, has decided to soften US emissions and fuel economy regulations as requested by US automakers. So what happens now?

In 2009, the US auto industry was reeling from the aftershocks of the global economic meltdown that upended world markets in 2008. Facing bankruptcy, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler snuck up the backstairs to do a deal with the devil. If the government would pull their chestnuts out of the fire, they would agree to a rigorous new emissions scheme that would see corporate average fuel economy number rise to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

EPA logoThe United States has a topsy-turvy way of regulating auto emissions. Unlike other countries that say you can only have some much of this or so much of that coming out of the tailpipes of the cars you manufacture, the US assumes that requiring vehicles to hit certain fuel mileage targets will mean less of the bad stuff in the exhaust stream. It does indirectly what should be done directly.

As soon as the checks from Uncle Sam cleared, the companies began whining about how burdensome the new regulations were and how expensive it would be to meet them and how many workers would lose their jobs because of them and how the government was forcing them to build cars nobody wanted to buy and so on. Well, hello, GM and FCA. Nobody forced you to take money from the government in the first place, you two-faced lying bastards.

Once Donald Trump was swept into office, the puling from the C suites at the car companies rose to a crescendo. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the mouthpiece that lobbies on behalf of most US car makers, pumped millions of dollars into a campaign to convince the EPA to overturn the fuel economy standards put in place by the Obama administration.

Pruitt Makes A Pronouncement

On April 2, the car companies got their wish. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who has gorged himself on bribes paid to him by the fossil fuel industry throughout his career, announced that “GHG Emissions Standards for Cars and Light Trucks Should Be Revised.” The press release from the agency reads as follows:

“Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is announcing the completion of the Midterm Evaluation (MTE) process for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025, and his final determination that, in light of recent data, the current standards are not appropriate and should be revised. Administrator Pruitt is also announcing the start of a joint process with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop a notice and comment rulemaking to set more appropriate GHG emissions standards and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.”

“The Obama Administration’s determination was wrong,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Obama’s EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”

California Won’t Play Ball With Pruitt

So the car makers got what they wanted. Or did they? California officials said prior to the announcement they have no intention of watering down their vehicle emissions rules. 11 other states have emissions policies that align with California. At this point, it appears all of them plan to continue following California’s lead, which means the uniformity car makers crave most is not a possibility. They will now have to decide whether all the cars they make will conform to California standards or whether they will manufacture different cars for different markets within the United States. The California bloc represents about one third of the US new car market.

Environmental groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sierra Club are blasting the EPA decision, saying it will cost Americans billions of dollars in higher fuel costs while subjecting people to higher levels of atmospheric pollution that can cause health issues and even shorten lives. None of that matters to Scott Pruitt, who acts more like a paid lobbyist than an even handed administrator.

Scott Pruitt? Meet The Administrative Procedures Act

So what happens now? Do the rules put in place by the Obama people just get tossed into the dustbin on the whim of a feckless political hack? As it happens, that is precisely the reason why Congress passed the Administrative Procedures Act in 1946. It sets the rules for how administrative agencies like the EPA make regulations and how they can change them. The EPA action is certain to be challenged in court, where the standard is whether the original rule was “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.”

Pruitt alleges it was all of those things, but getting a court to agree will be a Herculean task. The Obama people were no fools. Unlike the majority of Trump appointees, they actually had experience in governing and knew the rules of procedure. They based their decision to put the 2022 – 2025 rules in place on thousands of pages of scientific data.

Gina McCarthy, who was the EPA administrator under Obama, said the rules her office put in place were “based on an extensive technical record, created over 8 years of research, review of several hundred published reports, hundreds of stakeholder meetings, and multiple opportunities for the public to provide input.” The likelihood that a court will find what they did was arbitrary and capricious, represented an abuse of discretion, or was not in accordance with law in some other way is slight.

Even under a more lenient standard set forth in the APA, a court would have to find that the prior agency action was not supported by “substantial evidence.” In other words, a court would have to rule the input from hundreds of scientists was simply wrong. Finding judges who will rule in Pruitt’s favor will be tough. That is why Republicans are rabid about getting more reactionary judges like Neil Gorsuch appointed to the federal courts. If you can’t win a game on your own, steal the refs.

Will Tesla Be Affected?

If Pruitt is successful, more lenient emissions rules will work to the disadvantage of companies like Tesla which have based its entire business model on building ultra-low or zero emissions cars. In part, the new rules would mean less income from selling emissions and efficiency credits to other manufacturers. But more than that, “weaker regulations will simultaneously help the dirtiest, hurt the cleanest, and derail years of tenuous progress in reducing environmental harm from a growing source of pollution,” according to Vox.

So what have the car companies gotten for the millions of dollars they pumped into their fight against the EPA fuel economy rules? Chaos. Court reviews will take years, with both sides determined to take appeal after appeal. Meanwhile, the manufacturers will be in limbo, not knowing what standard they have to meet. Meanwhile, China will be calling the tune the rest of the world needs to dance to if they want to sell cars in the world’s largest car market. Many of the same companies that are digging in their heels to oppose strict emissions standards in the US are falling all over themselves to comply with the rules China has put in place.

Greed May Lead To A Nokia Moment

Why? Greed, pure and simple. The profits the companies realize from selling gargantuan vehicles in the US will pay for the research and development costs associated with keeping Chinese officials happy. Despite all their blather about protecting American jobs, they are selling America down the river as they pivot to address opportunities on the other side of the Pacific. In so doing, they are doing a disservice to America and sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

By the time they figure out they have backed the wrong horse, they will have opened the door wide for US competitors like Tesla and Chinese companies like Lynk & Co and SF Motors to come in and eat their lunch. Once Nokia and Blackberry ruled the marketplace just as pickup trucks dominate the US car market today. Then, in a heartbeat, they were gone. Here’s a thought for US car companies who think rolling back emissions standards is the greatest idea since sliced bread. Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.


You are one person. What can you possibly do when faced with the might of the US government and the entire car industry? You have only one weapon. Refuse to buy anything from these thieving bastards. Walk in to your local showroom, ask to see the manager, and tell that person you are in the market for a new car but refuse to buy from them because the company that makes their cars refuses to protect the environment and the health of you, your family, and your fellow citizens. Leave your phone number and ask for a call when they have zero emissions cars in stock for you to look at. Be polite but firm. Be a clean tech pioneer. Help change the mindset in Detroit that people don’t want to buy low and zero emissions cars.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.


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