Trump aide's departure clouds CAFE outlook
WASHINGTON -- The departure this month of a little-known White House bureaucrat could affect the pace, if not the substance, of administration deliberations over new emissions and fuel-efficiency rules for light vehicles.
Michael Catanzaro worked in the National Economic Council as a special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy. His duties included shepherding efforts by the EPA, NHTSA, California and other parties to retool Obama-era standards for improving fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As a conduit between the EPA, NHTSA and outside entities, he played a critical role in minimizing turf battles and keeping California at the table despite concerns that Trump administration officials want to gut another landmark environmental rule promulgated under President Barack Obama, several sources involved in the process said.
An auto industry lobbyist and a person representing a safety advocacy organization who asked not to be identified because of their relations with government officials, both characterized Catanzaro "as one of the few adults in the room."
Policymaking for the new fuel economy and emissions standards is at a delicate stage after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt determined April 1 that the standards for the 2022-25 model years are based on outdated assumptions and would cause financial hardship for automakers and consumers.
Pruitt has repeatedly sided with business, weakening nearly two dozen environmental rules, including ones for clean water and power plants.
A skeptic of the scientific evidence showing a human role in global warming, Pruitt pushed President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. His proposal this week to limit the use of scientific studies that don't disclose raw data -- such as personal information on human participants in health studies -- in the name of "transparency" is seen by critics as an attempt to base regulatory decisions on ideology rather than sound science.
Meanwhile, the administrator has threatened to revoke California's waiver under federal law to set stricter fuel economy standards, saying the state shouldn't dictate national policy. As part of the 2011 agreement on fuel economy standards, California recognized the federal standards as equivalent to its own, making it easier for automakers to comply with a single set of rules.
Catanzaro, a former aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, "understood the chaos that could be unleashed if California splits" from the agreement and maintains separate emissions standards, the auto industry lobbyist told Automotive News.
Catanzaro penned articles for the conservative website Human Events in which he questioned the connection between extreme weather events and climate change, and suggested that many scientists are alarmist about global warming. Nonetheless, he was viewed by associates as an honest broker in the CAFE decision-making.
Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, characterized Catanzaro as "a very experienced, seasoned hand who was very much committed to the concept of trying to get a One National Program solution."
His replacement is Francis Brooks, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence.
Bainwol said Catanzaro will be missed, but noted the process does not depend on one person and will move forward with little, if any, delay.
"We appreciated his civility and desire to engage in a meaningful conversation," the California Air Resources Board said in a statement. "From his work in the Senate, he brought with him an understanding of the need to involve stakeholders, and an appreciation of the rules and requirements of regulatory development at federal agencies."
Catanzaro is returning to CGCN, the Washington lobbying firm where he worked until February 2017 representing oil, gas and chemical interests. He didn't respond to messages seeking comment.
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