Policy

House GOP Seeks to Ease or End Vehicle Emissions Standards

Lawmakers say benchmarks force automakers to adopt costly technologies

House Republicans want federal environment and transportation regulators to loosen or eliminate fuel efficiency and emissions standards for motor vehicles, saying that current requirements could become costly to the auto industry and reduce consumer choices.

As part of the Obama administration's efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2012 set an average fuel efficiency goal of 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light duty trucks sold in the U.S. by 2025.

Republicans maintain that low gas prices — a national average of $2.20 per gallon — undercut the need for those standards and that consumers should be able to choose what kinds of cars to drive.

“A stagnant economy and low gas prices have consumers looking for the best value when buying a car,” Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Pete Olson, R-Texas, said at a joint hearing last month by his panel and another Energy and Commerce subcommittee, Commerce and Manufacturing, to examine the program.

The program mandated a midterm review of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards to determine whether changes would be needed for the 2022 to 2025 models. The first step in the midterm review was a draft technical assessment report released in July that found the average fuel efficiency in 2025 would likely average 50.8 mpg, falling short of the goal. EPA said, however, that the result was better than expected.

Republicans on the panels said the program forces automakers to adopt costly technologies that could stifle the industry.

“You don’t have to come from Michigan to be concerned about the Obama administration’s motor vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards because these provisions, if done wrong, would hurt car owners as well as car makers,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said. “With the average cost of a new car at $34,000 and rising, we don’t need any unnecessarily costly Washington mandates.”

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National Automobile Dealers Association President Peter Welch told lawmakers at the hearing that under the CAFE standards, the average price of a car would increase significantly because of the costly technologies like multi-speed transmissions, turbo-charging, mass hybridization and electrification.

“As a result, more people will be priced completely out of the new car market or face fewer economic choices for new vehicles,” Welch said.

GOP lawmakers demanded that the agencies use the midterm review to make the standards more lenient, even as Democrats and administration officials said the requirements were important for the larger goal of creating a cleaner environment and combating climate change. Some want to scuttle the entire program and strip the federal government of the authority to regulate the emissions and efficiency standards in the auto industry.

“I want to repeal the whole program,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas.

Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, who is chairman of the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee, is touting a bill he introduced in February that would eliminate all federally-mandated energy efficiency standards for consumer products and preclude the government from issuing new ones. “What I don’t want to see is government regulations and overly prescriptive mandates taking away consumer choice and putting a real hurt on the family budget,” Burgess said at the hearing.

Burgess’ bill has not yet been considered by his subcommittee.

Janet McCabe, the EPA acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, defended the standards, saying they are crucial to reducing climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions and that the industry is adapting faster than anticipated.

“In fact, we are seeing technologies that reduce emissions and improve fuel economy entering the fleet at faster rates than we originally expected,” McCabe said at the hearing. “This innovation means that there are many vehicles meeting future standards several years ahead of schedule.”

The regulators also in August rolled out standards for makers of heavy trucks, trailers, buses and other large vehicles to cut carbon emissions by up to 25 percent and increase their fuel efficiency for models 2018 and beyond.

Originally published Sept. 22.

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