EPA decision to pave way for changes in fuel efficiency rules: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Administration plans to declare by April 1 that the Obama administration’s vehicle efficiency rules through 2025 are “not appropriate,” two officials briefed on the matter said Friday.

FILE PHOTO - An exhaust pipe of a car is pictured on a street in a Berlin, Germany, February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The “not appropriate” declaration will allow the Trump administration to reopen vehicle emissions rules announced in 2011 and agreed to by automakers.

The administration is considering significant changes that would make it easier for automakers to meet regulations, a move that could boost vehicle pollution.

The EPA is expected to declare that the existing 2022-2025 model year rules on fuel economy must be revised but not immediately propose new requirements, the people said. The rules sought to double average fleet-wide fuel efficiency to about 50 miles (80 km) per gallon by 2025.

Two administration officials and several automakers told Reuters the timing of proposing revisions for automakers remained in flux. EPA officials suggested a proposal could come in late May or June, while the Transportation Department is pushing for a speedier proposal, automakers and officials said.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman confirmed in an email Friday that a draft determination submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget “is undergoing interagency review. A final determination will be signed by April 1, 2018, consistent with the original timeline.” She declined to offer any details on the proposal.

Heidi King, the deputy National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator, told a Senate panel Tuesday that the agency expected to propose fuel economy standards in April for a five-year period and is working “to make sure that the federal family is aligned in the path forward.”

Car companies hope to avoid a potential legal battle among federal regulators, many state attorneys general and environmental groups that could leave them in limbo about future rules. General Motors Co GM.N Chief Executive Mary Barra met earlier this month with EPA and Transportation officials.

Automakers want rule changes to address lower gasoline prices and a shift in U.S. consumer preferences to larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles.

Industry executives have not publicly sought specific reductions in the requirements negotiated with the Obama administration in 2011.

In March 2017, Trump suggested he would soften the mandates. “The assault on the American auto industry is over,” he told autoworkers.

Automakers are pressing the administration to reach agreement with California to maintain a nationwide set of fuel efficiency requirements.

California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols said in January the board does not believe the standards should be lowered.

A spokeswoman for Nichols, Stanley Young, said the agency was “troubled about the rumors that the EPA has found the standards to be too aggressive and that they need to be weakened.”

He added California feels “strongly that weakening the program will waste fuel, increase emissions, and cost consumers more money.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman