Two top Democrats are seeking information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency related to Administrator Andrew Wheeler's public claims that a proposal to freeze Obama-era vehicle fuel economy standards will save money and lives.
Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Tom Carper, D-Del., and House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., sent a letter dated May 23 to Wheeler requesting documents that could shed further light on the Trump administration's proposal to retain existing fuel economy and tailpipe standards for cars and light-duty trucks.
The standards, one of former President Barack Obama's signature efforts to combat climate change, were set to ratchet up to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in August 2018 proposed freezing the standard at 37 miles per gallon for model years 2020 through 2026 after former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declared the tougher Obama-era standard inappropriate. The agencies also proposed to revoke California's waiver under the Clean Air Act to set its own tougher standards, which more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia now follow.
During his January confirmation hearing, Wheeler cited a technical analysis produced by the EPA and NHTSA that found maintaining the weaker standards would lower traffic fatalities by saving consumers money on vehicle purchases.
The proposal "would decrease the cost of a new car by $2,300, and that will get older cars off the road," Wheeler told senators. "And when you get an older car off the road, people are buying safer cars, and it will save 1,000 lives a year. I think that is a very important fact to get out there in the public."
However, Carper and Pallone noted that EPA career staff concluded six months earlier that the proposal would actually increase fatalities by up to 17 deaths annually from 2036 to 2045 due to increased vehicle travel. EPA staff arrived at the new estimate after correcting what they described as "technical flaws" in the computer source code used for the analysis.
Moreover, the lawmakers cited critical comments submitted by EPA staff to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs as part of the interagency review process. "The proposed standards are detrimental to safety, rather than beneficial," EPA staff said.
Carper and Pallone said they are seeking additional briefing papers and other documents so they "can better understand the motivation for and flaws in the Trump administration's proposal." The information also is needed to determine the degree to which Wheeler's public statements "may have deviated from the information that was provided" to him, the lawmakers said.
In addition, Carper and Pallone requested a list of any meetings held with representatives from Marathon Petroleum Corp., the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers group, and Koch Industries Inc., citing media reports that those entities were involved in developing the proposed fuel economy standards freeze.
Carper and Pallone asked the agency to provide all requested information by June 4.
The California Air Resources Board, which sets the state's vehicle standards, also is suing the EPA and NHTSA under the Freedom of Information Act for access to the same underlying computer source code used to produce the agencies' technical analysis.
When asked for comment, and EPA spokesman on May 24 said, "We will respond through the proper channels."