WASHINGTON -- A half-dozen Senate Democrats said they will fight EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's effort to scale back fuel efficiency standards and criticized automakers for reneging on a commitment to build cleaner cars by actively pushing for the change.
Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a frequent critic of the auto industry, announced he is introducing the Gas Money Saved Act to reaffirm the existing standards finalized under the Obama administration and prevent the EPA from issuing rules to weaken them.
"And we will block any attempt to rescind California's waiver. We will fight it if they try to put it in the budget, in any omnibus, or any other must-pass bill" and make it a national issue, he said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
The legislation is unlikely to advance since Republicans control the Senate and generally support most of President Trump's deregulation efforts.
Pruitt last week determined that the fuel economy and tailpipe emission standards agreed to in 2012 are too aggressive because sales of electric and other high-efficiency vehicles are too low for automakers to hit the target of roughly doubling fuel economy on a fleetwide basis. He also suggested that the Trump administration might revoke California's authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own air quality standards, which 13 other states have adopted.
The senators and representatives from several public interest groups said the existing standards are benefiting consumers' pocketbooks, the environment and national security through reduced oil imports, while driving innovation.
American automakers "are hiding behind their trade association" to get the rules modified after voluntarily agreeing to build cars and trucks that meet the standards, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said.
He characterized automakers, led on the issue by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, as hypocrites. "You can't say on your website that you're serious about clean energy, clean transportation and climate change, and then work through your trade association to undo a promise you made to the American people," he said.
Pruitt's decision is anti-business because it is creating uncertainty for the auto industry, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., added.
"I understand the administration has an interest in reducing regulatory burdens for industry. There are certainly areas where that should happen. But common-sense vehicle emission rules that were developed in collaboration with the auto industry should not be a victim of Administrator Pruitt's agenda," he said.
The senator said he has not heard from any business in his state that has voiced concerns about the existing standards and reiterated that Colorado officials would consider adopting California's vehicle standards too if the EPA rescinds or substantially relaxes the federal rules that are now aligned.
State attorney generals and public interest groups have previously threatened legal action to block any attempt at taking away California's rights over vehicle emissions.
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