Schumer blasts EPA chief's decision to roll back vehicle emissions standards

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on Tuesday wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general to request an investigation of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's low-priced rental of a room in a lobbyist's townhouse.

The Obama administration set the average fleet-wide fuel efficiency standards "too high" and "made assumptions about the standards that didn't comport with reality", Pruitt said. As such, carmakers routinely ensure new vehicles are manufactured according to the more demanding Californian state vehicle emissions standards. Although the decision revises fuel economy standards, automakers will still need to comply with emissions rules set by California and several other states, which are even tougher than the EPA's.

Don Fox, who served as general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama and Bush administrations said, "Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the EPA decision".

Pruitt has declined to comment on the rental arrangement reported last week and a spokesman for the agency on Friday defended his conduct and said the lease agreement was in line with federal ethical regulations. Pruitt says the standards are hurting auto company's competitiveness.

It said it has completed a review affecting vehicles to be released between 2022-25 but did not provide details on new standards.

Trump has not identified a replacement for Pruitt should he decide to fire him, multiple senior officials said, and he remains enthusiastic about the progress his EPA has made toward deregulation and environmental rollbacks.

It also claimed the previous administration rushed through its evaluation on future greenhouse gas emissions before leaving office. Since then, the auto industry and other stakeholders sought a reinstatement of the original MTE timeline, so that the Agency could review the latest information.

At the American Lung Association, President and CEO Harold Wimmer said transportation emissions remain the largest contributor of carbon pollution in the USA and weakening standards could pose a threat to Americans living with chronic diseases such as asthma.

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"Today's decision changes nothing in California and the 12 other states with clean auto rules that reduce emissions and improve gas mileage - those rules remain in place", declared Nichols. California agreed to follow the new rule so that automakers could meet a single national standard.

Interestingly, Pruitt's announcement also called out California, which has enjoyed a waiver allowing it to set its own emissions standards through the California Air Resources Board (CARB) since the 1960s when the state experienced dramatic smog levels.

Once those credits and testing procedures are factored in, analysts expected that new cars and light trucks sold in the United States would have averaged about 36 miles per gallon on the road by 2025 under the Obama-era rules, up from about 24.7 miles per gallon in 2016.

"The wisest course of action is to keep new vehicles affordable so more consumers can replace an older auto with a new vehicle that uses much less fuel - and offers more safety features, " she said.

Ann Carlson, a professor of environmental law at the UCLA, said EPA's move is unprecedented especially in a state like California where the law has been effective for years. We saw another wave of California-only models in the early 2010s, when vehicle companies needed to sell so-called compliance electric cars to meet the zero-emissions requirement and keep doing business in the state.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said its members were close to achieving the greenhouse gas emissions goals set in the Paris Climate Accord.

Mary Barra, the head of General Motors, said last month her company is committed to zero emissions and an all-electric line.

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