EPA's surprise move to keep strict MPG rules

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Fuel economy rules put in place by the Obama administration back in 2012 call for cars and SUVs to have much higher fuel economy by 2025. Those rules were supposed to be revisited this year so regulators could, if it was deemed necessary, loosen them up.

The EPA announced Wednesday that doesn’t think easing the requirements will be necessary. Auto industry groups say they were caught off guard by the announcement. They had been expecting more time to discuss the matter.

“This was totally unexpected,” said Jared Allen, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealer’s Association, said of the announcement. “Really, really out of the blue.”

The EPA has until April 2018 to make a final determination about changing the requirements. Wednesday’s announcement was only a “Proposed Determination.” The agency will now take comments from the industry and the public on this proposal, but only until Dec. 30, 2016.

Some in the industry say the agency may be trying to take a hard stand on fuel economy now before the Trump administration, seen as friendlier to industry, takes over in January.

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“My sense is that EPA sees trouble ahead for the idea of continuing to increase emissions standards,” said Jeremy Anwyl, a long-time auto industry consultant and the CEO of the web site Trucks.com. “This is their way of getting their position on the record.”

The fuel economy regulations are set and overseen jointly by the National Highway Traffic Administration and the EPA. These two federal agencies also co-ordinate with the California Air Resources Board which sets standards for several states.

The EPA regulates emissions including those of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Emissions of carbon dioxidevary with the amount of fuel burned, which is why the EPA is involved with fuel economy standards.

The EPA said it has found that, so far, automakers have been able to meet increasing fuel economy standards without making new cars unaffordable. Industry sources counter that was only because automakers had technology at their disposal that could quickly be added to new cars under development but, from here on out, the requirements will rise at a steeper rate and the technologies needed to meet them will become more expensive.

Gloria Berquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said that in an era of low gas prices people have been gravitating to more fuel efficient vehicles.

When these rules were first enacted, all cars and SUVs, combined, had originally been projected to deliver Corporate Average Fuel Economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. With gas prices much lower than had been expected, the EPA has already lowered that projection to 50 and 52.6 miles per gallon by then. The altered projections did not change the underlying requirements. They only reflected the expectation that, with lower gas prices, consumers would tend to buy larger vehicles.

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