Days before EPA unveiled a new regulation designed to clean up U.S. cars, White House officials told the agency that its rule still wasn’t strong enough, according to government documents recently made public.
Unnamed administration officials — in an email sent on Dec. 10 — urged EPA to limit its concessions to automakers and said that taking a tougher stance would “increase net benefits,” which would reduce climate emissions.
EPA ultimately rejected most of the recommendations put forward by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a small team of about 45 analysts attached to President Biden’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
But observers say the fact that OIRA was calling for a stronger rule was atypical. Progressives long have dismissed the OIRA review process as a tool to weaken federal regulations and create unnecessary delays.
“It is interesting and encouraging to see OIRA playing this role,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy analyst with Public Citizen. “OIRA has long had a reputation for doing the opposite.”
Narang said the development could signal a broader shift in approach as the Biden administration weighs how it should use federal regulations to address climate change.
The disagreement also highlights ongoing tensions between EPA and the White House. Last summer, administration officials unsuccessfully urged EPA to issue a stronger proposed rule (Greenwire, Aug. 27, 2021).
The most recent critiques, raised in the Dec. 10 email to EPA, take issue with concessions to carmakers.
For example, EPA initially had proposed offering automakers incentives — such as double-counting electric vehicle sales and extra credit for certain technologies — through model year 2025.
Administration officials reviewing the rule urged EPA to limit those incentives to just model year 2023. The final rule compromises, allowing the incentives from model year 2023 to 2024.
Administration officials also asked EPA to limit the incentives to cars — and exclude trucks. U.S. drivers on average prefer pickup trucks to cars, so limiting the benefits to cars could have led to significant emission reductions.
The final rule, however, extends the incentive to both cars and trucks.
EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll said the final clean car rule is “responsive” to public comments and “grounded in years of vehicle emissions testing and modeling of the [greenhouse gas] emission reduction technologies.”
“Technology is moving ahead and driving massive changes in transportation, and this offers a real moment of opportunity that we can use to shift us toward a path of clean, zero emissions technologies,” he wrote in an email.
Carroll did not respond to requests for comment on the specific recommendations EPA rejected by press time.
Transportation is the single largest source of planet-warming pollution in the country, with passenger vehicles spewing the bulk of those greenhouse gas emissions.
Broadly, Biden’s clean car rule aims to surpass former President Obama’s greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles, which were rolled back by former President Trump.
Under Obama, automakers were required to raise the fuel economy for vehicles 5 percent a year through 2025. But Trump reduced that rate to 1.5 percent annually through 2026.
The Biden administration’s rule increases the average fuel economy of new passenger …….