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Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards

Author: Rebecca Beitsch

Some of the nation’s automakers are set to intervene in a lawsuit from a conservative group challenging the Trump administration’s plans to drastically reduce fuel economy standards.

The suit from the Competitive Enterprise Institute filed earlier this month argues the administration erred in requiring automakers to increase fuel economy by 1.5 percent each year instead of freezing or reducing the standards even further.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation announced Friday that it will intervene in the suit, fighting the effort to weaken the standards.

“The auto industry remains united in its desire for yearly improvements in fuel economy and greenhouse gas reductions,” John Bozzella, president and CEO of the group, said in a statement. 

“Despite calls by interest groups for flat standards, our members are committed to increasing standards that support investment in vehicles that improve fuel efficiency, and that balance affordability, safety, and the environment.”

It’s unclear how large of year-over-year improvements automakers involved in the suit are willing to make, as other manufacturers that already signed a deal with California to meet more aggressive standards did not join the rest of the industry in the intervening suit. 

That includes Ford.

"We aren’t participating in the Alliance’s intervention because of the voluntary framework to reduce emissions that we are working on with the California Air Resources Board. We believe this path is what’s best for our customers, the environment, and the short- and long-term health of the auto industry," Ford said in a statement to The Hill.

The Obama-era rules would have required 5 percent yearly improvements in fuel economy, requiring cars to reach nearly 55 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025, as opposed to 40 mpg by 2026 under the Trump rules.

The intervention is one more chapter in a complicated series of lawsuits tied to the new rule, including those over a previous decision by President Trump to revoke a waiver given to California that allows them to set their own more stringent fuel economy standards. Those have been adopted by at least 13 states.

The agreements California has forged with four major automakers, with more expected, hew much closer to what the Obama administration finalized. Some fear the latest suit will cause further division in the industry. 

“I was disappointed by the announcement today. I have argued it’s in the long-term interest for the administration, California and the auto industry to be on the same page,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said in a statement. 

“Today’s action sets us further back from this goal. The parties that made the move today are the same ones that joined the Trump Administration’s lawsuit against California. The fact of the matter is the global auto market is already significantly decarbonizing. The American auto industry can either lead or be led.”

Experts say the Trump administration fuel economy rule is particularly vulnerable to legal challenge, as the government’s analysis found the news standards would cost more than they would save by some $13 billion.

New documents also show the Environmental Protection Agency proceeded with the rule over objections from staff.

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