EPA IG Investigating Trump Team’s Clean Car Rule Replacement

Photo: recyclingtoday.com

By Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

The internal watchdog (Inspector General or IG) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced they had opened an investigation into the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman reported in the New York Times last week. SAFE represented a significant weakening of Obama-era “Clean Car” regulations “that would have limited automobile emissions by significantly raising fuel economy standards,” the NYT noted. Many prominent outside experts argue the Trump rule does not “stand up to rigorous independent analysis” and want the EPA to make public the formulas and economic models they used. In addition, according to the NYT, auditors will “investigate whether the Trump administration ‘acted consistent with requirements, including those pertaining to transparency, record-keeping, and docketing, and followed the E.P.A’s process for developing final regulatory action.”

Why This Matters: As Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the NYT, “this is really serious…It’s rare for E.P.A.’s inspector general to conduct an investigation of the agency’s rule-making.” While the IG does not have the authority to change the rule, the findings of the investigation could shine a spotlight on potential procedural or substantive legal violations, spurring further Congressional investigations or providing justification to overturn the rule in court.

The Controversy over SAFE

The IG’s office will look into whether there were any “irregularities” during the crafting of SAFE. These “irregularities,” as The Verge noted, were “flagged” to the IG’s office in May by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. As the NYT noted, the “new rules require fuel economy standards to rise by about 1.5 percent a year, compared to the 5 percent annual increase required by the Obama rule.” This might sound like small potatoes, but it’s not. As compared with Obama-era regulations, the current rule would allow cars to “emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the vehicles covered by the rule than they would have under the Obama standards.”

SAFE has had controversy surrounding it since its beginning. As Davenport and Friedman reported, Trump administration officials were “acutely aware” that a Biden administration could use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the regulation with a congressional vote. Because of that, as one former Trump administration official noted to the NYT, “political appointees working on the rule had rushed to complete it before April, fearing that, if it was published later this year, it could be quickly overturned in 2021” should Biden win.

Why SAFE to Begin With?

The Trump administration, according to the Verge, justifies the weakening regulations by claiming it would “lower the upfront cost of a new car by around $1,000.” It also suggested that the Obama-era rule would cause more people to buy used cars that are “dirtier and less safe specifically because the new cars would be that much more expensive.” As the Verge noted, there are “many reasons to debate those findings,” and the rule is already being challenged in court.

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