EPA's Pruitt, automakers in lockstep over fuel economy standards
WASHINGTON -- Flanked by trade association heads representing auto manufacturers and dealers Tuesday morning, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended Monday's decision to revise the Obama administration's fuel economy targets for 2022-25 in language that resonated with his industry guests.
Pruitt, who has taken industry's side in more than a dozen deregulatory initiatives the past year and has openly questioned scientific consensus on global warming, agreed with automakers that the tailpipe emissions standards are making light-duty vehicles too expensive and that consumers are avoiding alternative-fuel powertrains.
The desire to include more updated data on consumer demand was one of the main reasons automakers lobbied the Trump administration to re-review the fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards aimed at roughly doubling fuel economy by 2025.
"The focus in past has been on making manufacturers make cars that people aren't going to buy. And our focus should be on making cars that people purchase actually more efficient," Pruitt said at an invitation-only event from EPA headquarters that was streamed live on Twitter.
"To have arbitrary percentages of our fleet made up of vehicles that aren't going to be purchased ... defeats the very purpose" of the corporate average fuel economy standards, he said, because people will hold onto older vehicles or buy used ones that pollute more.
The EPA had considered holding the event at the Pohanka Automotive Group's Chevy dealership in Chantilly, Va., outside Washington, where environmental groups planned to protest the decision on emissions rules. Pohanka President Geoffrey Pohanka has publicly dismissed the argument that humans are the cause of climate change.
Pruitt said the decision to tailor emissions standards to market realities is another example of President Donald Trump's "America First" philosophy.
While the auto industry has been excoriated by public interest groups for appearing to renege on its 2011 agreement to fully cooperate in implementing the higher efficiency standards, Pruitt praised the auto industry for its green credentials.
"We have nothing to be apologetic about with respect to reducing emissions as a country," he said. "We've led the world with respect to reduction of GHG ... and the auto sector has been the leader in achieving that through better design, through better technology.
"And that's exciting," he added. "We should celebrate that as a country. So, I just want to say to you in the auto sector, thank you for your leadership, thank you for the difference you've made on behalf of the environment, thank you for your continued commitment to these principles."
Pruitt was introduced by National Automobile Dealers Association President Peter Welch, who drove home the point that emissions standards need to be increased in a way that keeps cars affordable. John Bozzella, president of the Association of Global Automakers, thanked Pruitt for the EPA's "thorough, empirical" analysis that led to the course correction. And Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, rejected the idea that the pending changes constitute a rollback on combating pollution.
Pruitt's decision on CAFE standards came down as the controversy over a rental agreement for a D.C. condo owned by the wife of energy industry lobbyist Stephen Hart continued to swirl. Hart's firm, Williams & Jensen, also represents the Automotive Policy Council, which advocates on behalf of the Detroit 3 automakers.
Critics say the arrangement is a conflict of interest and the latest ethical lapse by the administrator. Pruitt has also come under fire for his use of first-class, military and charter flights that cost taxpayers $163,000, the size of his security detail and spending money to build a secure communications room normally found in agencies with a national security mission.
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