U.S. Fuel Rollback Earns Pushback from Scientific Advisory Board

by admin January 6, 2020 at 12:44 am

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) is once again applying pressure on the Trump administration’s proposed fuel economy rollback. Similar to the complaints issued by a coalition of scientists back in March of 2018, the board expressed concerns that significant weaknesses exist in the analysis underpinning the plan that should be addressed before any rules are made final. A draft report was circulated earlier in the week, with the SAB scheduling a public meeting meeting on January 17th.

“[The] EPA always appreciates and respects the work and advice of the SAB,” the U.S. regulatory agency said in a statement. “When implemented, the [rollback] will benefit all Americans by improving the U.S. fleet’s fuel economy, reducing air pollution, and making new vehicles more affordable for all Americans.”

Unfortunately, those are the issues the SAB seems the most concerned with.

Much of the current administration’s reasoning for embracing the rollback is to reduce pressure on manufacturers and the economy. While sales hiccups in Europe and China have left many wondering about the ability of various markets to endure swift and sweeping environmental regulations, there’s little to suggest a rollback would do much (if anything) to improve air quality. The EPA hasn’t done much to refute this, either. The bulk of its focus has been on maintaining industrial jobs, affordable vehicle options, customer choice, and safety.

The administration’s latest draft of the plan seeks to cap fleet-wide fuel efficiency requirements at roughly 37 miles per gallon after 2020. Obama era rules have that number heading toward 50 mpg through 2025, though the EPA has previously called the targets arbitrary and not in line with market or technological realities. Unfortunately, the majority of SAB members feel like that distinction was made without adequate scientific reasoning.

The New York Times spoke with Peter Wilcoxen, professor of public administration at Syracuse University, to get a better understanding of the SAB’s gripes:

Mr. Wilcoxen chaired the working group that reviewed the E.P.A.’s rollback of automobile tailpipe emission standards and said the agency’s analysis had several well-known “core flaws.”

One of the primary problems, he said, is that the E.P.A., in an unusual move, used a flawed economic model that had not been reviewed either internally by federal agencies or in the academic literature. That model found what Mr. Wilcoxen described as the “really improbable” results that relaxing Obama-era gas mileage standards would lead to a significantly smaller fleet of vehicles despite the model’s prediction that the vehicles would be cheaper.

That assumption helped drive the Trump administration’s argument that its rule would lead to fewer cars on the road and therefore fewer planet-warming emissions.

“They ended up with this result that basically violated introductory economics,” Mr. Wilcoxen said.

As usual, the environmental and economic beliefs of these groups appear to be completely at odds with each other. For many, choosing a side has more to do with one’s priorities than wisdom. Do you keep the focus nailed down to environmental policy, despite the potential of that creating issues for consumers and uncertainty within the market? Or is it best to push them out of the way to make sure people continue to have access to vehicles they’ll actually buy while cutting manufacturers a regulatory break in the United States?

[Image: Siripatv/Shutterstock]

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