Gabe Nelson
Gabe Nelson
Silicon Valley, Tesla, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda and Mitsubishi

EPA chief gives automakers 'A' for fuel economy effort

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy with U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., on the floor of the auto show earlier today.

Photo credit: Gabe Nelson
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DETROIT -- Car companies are fiercely competing for better fuel economy. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is convinced they're trying about as hard as they can.

Speaking to reporters today at the Detroit auto show, McCarthy said that if the fuel economy standards must be scaled back during a "midterm review" in 2017, it will be due to no lack of effort within the industry.

"If we don't quite get there … it is not going to be the fault of those companies," said McCarthy, who helped oversee the crafting of the standards as the EPA's top air pollution official, and was confirmed as administrator last year. "They are trying hard. They are working. They are investing."

This is a bold statement. Regulators rarely exhibit such confidence in the companies they regulate. But the auto industry and the EPA made peace on fuel economy a few years ago, and for now, it seems the peace was a lasting one.

McCarthy met with the car companies on Monday. She said they were naturally interested in hearing that the EPA is still committed to doing the midterm review, which would allow regulators to scale back the 54.5 mpg target if automakers are managing less fuel savings than expected.

"And of course, we are," McCarthy said.

The automakers also urged the EPA to finish tailpipe emissions rules that would take effect in 2017.

Those new "Tier 3" regulations would be stricter, but automakers favor them because they are aligned with California's rules and would force oil refiners to further reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline.

McCarthy said the EPA still intends to finalize those regulations in February -- which means automakers and refiners would have to comply in early 2017, before model year 2018 cars go on sale.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.

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