EPA rejected warnings that its auto emissions plan was too weak

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WASHINGTON – The White House and other administration officials told the Environmental Protection Agency that its industry-backed plan to tighten auto emission limits was too lax, but the agency pushed back those warnings and released the proposal with provisions that could reduce its bite.

The discord was revealed in thousands of pages of correspondence, analyzes and recently published drafts from an interagency review of the extent that the EPA unveiled earlier this month and should be finalized by the end of the year. The correspondence highlights tensions within the administration over the aggressiveness with which to enforce regulations to tackle climate change, especially when efforts are opposed by industry.

“This clearly shows that many officials in the Biden administration believed that the EPA should have come up with stricter and more efficient clean car standards to tackle climate change,” Amit Narang, a regulatory expert at Public citizen, said in an interview.

The problem is the EPA’s proposal to tighten federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks, which had been weakened under President Donald Trump. The new measure aligns closely with a much stricter auto emissions plan chartered under President Barack Obama in 2012. By model year 2026, the EPA’s new proposal would result in federal limits on most stringent greenhouse gas emissions to date on passenger cars and light trucks. .

The proposed standards, along with the administration’s efforts to promote the use of electric vehicles, would be “the boldest on the books,” a White House spokesman said. The spokesperson stressed that this measure is still only a proposal and subject to public comment.

Still, several White House and other U.S. officials reviewing the EPA’s draft last month urged an even stronger approach. And they warned the agency that actual emission reductions could be reduced by the provisions the EPA incorporated into its proposal, including the double-counting of electric vehicle sales and so-called flexibilities that grant credit. added to technologies that make cars more fuel efficient but don’t necessarily show up in exhaust readings.

While the Trump administration has removed some of these incentives in its 2020 automotive rule, the EPA’s new proposal would revive the special treatment of sales of electric, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cell vehicles for model years 2022 to 2025. vans to apply for an offset credit.

Officials across President Joe Biden’s administration – who are not named in recently released documents – have unsuccessfully urged the EPA to come up with more stringent requirements.

“Most reviewers suggested considering a stricter proposal,” and at least one person recommended stricter standards for later model years, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs told the EPA last month, as it summarized comments on the agency’s draft.

Several people urged the EPA to adopt a more stringent alternative that had been described by the agency because it “has higher net benefits” and would encourage greater adoption of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, according to the summary.

Officials also questioned the EPA’s decision to give special treatment to the sale of electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles, warning that they “are not technologically neutral and reduce the effective rigor of the rule “. While these flexibilities may be necessary to help automakers take a big leap in rigor for the 2023 model year, they could translate into a smaller share of electric vehicles on the road, the Bureau warned. information and regulatory affairs.

The EPA program has enabled automakers to effectively claim additional credit for the sales of certain low-emission alternative vehicles, an approach that helps meet global automotive pollution mandates.

At one point, at least one administration official rejected the EPA’s claim that increasing and extending multipliers for the sale of fully electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and battery-powered vehicles hydrogen fuel “would help bring certain technologies to market more quickly.” The person cited third-party research that “suggests that extending multiplier credits could counterintuitively reduce the penetration of electric vehicles.”

The EPA has made changes in response to some of the White House’s concerns, including soliciting public comment on whether to ditch multipliers for alternative vehicles. The agency also asked for public comment on setting a stricter standard for the 2026 model year, in response to the White House’s exhortation.

However, the EPA ultimately stood firm in maintaining its credit and incentive plan, which was seen as helping the auto industry adjust to rapidly escalating emissions requirements for the year. model 2023.

In drafting its proposal, the EPA sought to strengthen standards far beyond the requirements established under Trump. The agency was also under pressure to reflect the efforts of five automakers who voluntarily pledged to further reduce their emissions as part of a deal with California regulators last year.

Public comment

The EPA is now accepting public comments on its proposal. He could still move to strengthen his final rule, which is expected to be imposed later this year. Environmentalists are pushing the EPA to toughen the final regulation.

The EPA defended its approach and said it welcomed comments on the proposal.

“The proposed rule would put the EPA’s clean car program back on track using technology available today to make vehicles cleaner, reduce long-term emissions and save consumers money,” said agency in a press release sent by email. “By the 2026 model year, the standards would be the most stringent federal greenhouse gas standards ever adopted.”

The White House’s concerns echo those voiced by environmentalists, who have spoken out against incentives and credits that make it easier for automakers to meet annual limits without actually reducing actual emissions on the road.

“At the end of the day, the proposal they put forward is definitely below 2012 standards,” Dave Cooke, senior vehicle analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a telephone interview. It also doesn’t meet the trajectory needed to meet Biden’s goal of having half of all vehicles sold will be electric models by 2030, Cooke said.

Cooke’s modeling suggests that the EPA’s proposal would produce about 30% less emission reductions over the life of the affected vehicles than what would have been achieved under the 2012 Obama-era requirements.

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