US says tougher standards would fuel driving risks


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

The Trump administration says people would drive more and be exposed to increased risk if their cars get better gas mileage, an argument intended to justify freezing Obama-era toughening of fuel standards.

Transportation experts dispute the arguments, contained in a draft of the administration’s proposals prepared this summer, excerpts of which were obtained by The Associated Press.

The excerpts also show the administration plans to challenge California’s long-standing authority to enact its own, tougher pollution and fuel standards.

Revisions to the mileage requirements for 2021 through 2026 are still being worked on, the administration says, and changes could be made before the proposal is released as soon as this week.

The Trump administration gave notice earlier this year that it would roll back tough new fuel standards put into place in the waning days of the Obama administration. Anticipating the new regulation, California and 16 other states sued the Trump administration in May.

Overall, “improvements over time have better longer-term effects simply by not alienating consumers, as compared to great leaps forward” in fuel efficiency and other technology, the administration argues. It contends freezing the mileage requirements at 2020 levels would save up to 1,000 lives per year.

New vehicles would be cheaper – and heavier – if they don’t have to meet more stringent fuel requirements and more people would buy them, the draft says, and that would put more drivers in safer, newer vehicles that pollute less.

At the same time, the draft says people will drive less if vehicles get fewer miles per gallon, lowering the risk of crashes.

Experts say the logic that heavier vehicles are safer doesn’t hold up because lighter, newer vehicles perform as well or better than older, heavier versions in crash tests. Plus the weight difference between the Obama and Trump requirements would be minimal.

An April draft from the Trump administration said freezing the requirements at 2020 levels would save people $1,900 per new vehicle. But the later draft raises that to $2,100 and even as high as $2,700 by 2025.

Asked if he thinks a freeze in U.S. mileage standards is warranted, EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler told a small group of reporters at EPA headquarters last week, “I think we need to go where the technology takes us” on fuel standards.

Wheeler did not elaborate. Agency spokesmen did not respond when asked specifically if the EPA acting chief was making the case that modern cars could be both fuel efficient and safe.

Wheeler also spoke out for what he called “a 50-state solution” that would keep the U.S car and truck market from splitting between two different mileage standards.

The Department of Transportation said in a statement that the final fuel economy standards would be based on sound science. The department cautioned that a draft doesn’t capture the whole picture of the proposed regulation.

The draft said a 2012 analysis of fuel economy standards under the Obama administration deliberately limited the amount of mass reduction necessary under the standards. This was done “in order to avoid the appearance of adverse safety effects,” the draft stated.

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