EPA Watchdog to Review Trump’s Vehicle Emissions Rollback

SAFE Vehicles Rule under spotlight as IG investigates
July 28, 2020 Updated: July 28, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) watchdog said it will investigate the Trump administration’s rollback of vehicle emission rules introduced by the Obama administration.

According to a statement (pdf) from the EPA’s independent Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Inspector General Sean O’Donnell will attempt to determine whether the EPA followed the necessary requirements when it ruled on the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule Part 2. Specifically, O’Donnell will examine whether the EPA followed rules “pertaining to transparency, record-keeping, and docketing, and followed the EPA’s process for developing final regulatory actions.”

When the SAFE Vehicles Rule was finalized on March 31, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao said that the rule “reflects the Department’s number 1 priority—safety—by making newer, safer, cleaner vehicles more accessible for Americans who are, on average, driving 12-year-old cars. By making newer, safer, and cleaner vehicles more accessible for American families, more lives will be saved and more jobs will be created.”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said at the time that with the SAFE Rule, the EPA had delivered on President Donald Trump’s promise to “correct” fuel economy and vehicle emission standards.

“Our final rule puts in place a sensible one national program that strikes the right regulatory balance that protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry,” Wheeler said. “This rule supports our economy, and the safety of American families.”

Requested Investigation

The OIG indicated that on May 18, a senator had contacted the office claiming to have obtained documents that “identified a number of potential irregularities” surrounding the manner in which the EPA promulgated the regulation.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)—the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee—asked the OIG to examine whether the EPA had acted correctly.

“The documents obtained by my office—which have now also been formally requested by the EPA Inspector General—demonstrate significant irregularities and illegalities throughout the Trump Administration’s preparation and finalization of its SAFE Vehicles rule, which was fraught with fatal flaws from the start,” Carper said in a statement.

“I’m pleased that the EPA Inspector General is opening an investigation into this rule, which was the product of the most procedurally problematic process my office has ever reviewed. If the EPA IG follows the facts, I have no doubt they will find that the Trump Administration failed to follow the law,” he said.

The exhaust pipes of an up to date Audi car blow out not visible emissions during the engine start in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. Volkswagen said Tuesday that an internal investigation has revealed "unexplained inconsistencies" in the carbon dioxide emissions from 800,000 of its vehicles. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
The exhaust pipes of an Audi car release invisible emissions during engine start-up in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on Nov. 4, 2015. (Martin Meissner/AP Photo)

Under Obama’s Clean Power Plan and the earlier Clean Air Act, car manufacturers were to improve fuel efficiency by 5 percent on average each year from 2021 through to 2025.

The SAFE Vehicle Rule reduced this figure to 1.5 percent per year.

‘Unattainable’ Obama Requirements

The SAFE Vehicles Rule would provide safer, cleaner cars while reducing the cost of new cars, the White House has said.

“The previous administration’s unattainable corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and CO2 emissions standards made new vehicles too expensive for many Americans to afford, forcing them to keep driving their older, more dangerous, and less environmentally friendly vehicles,” said former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement.

Grisham said that research from the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the EPA showed that by 2029, the SAFE Vehicles standards will have resulted in an additional 2.7 million new vehicles sold, 397,000 fewer automobile-related injuries, 3,300 fewer crash fatalities, and reductions in technology costs of up to $126 billion.

New research from IHS Markit released Tuesday states that the average light vehicle driving on American roads today is 11.9 years old—one month older than in 2019. The organization said that the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus crisis is likely to exacerbate this situation, as growth in the sale of new cars has plateaued and significant upward pressure on vehicle age is expected in the coming months and years.