DCR Environment: EPA staff warned that mileage rollbacks had flaws but Trump officials ignored them.☕☕☕

Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some tea and it involves The EPA and Trump administration trying to roll back an Obama era policy.

In the rush to roll back the most significant climate policy enacted by President Barack Obama mileage standards designed to reduce pollution from cars the Trump administration ignored warnings that its new rule has serious flaws, according to The Washington Post;

The behind the scenes skirmish in late March between career employees and Trump appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency highlights the extent to which Trump officials are racing to reverse environmental policies by the end of the president’s first term.

Even as the coronavirus outbreak has hampered many government operations, the administration is pressing ahead with the rollback of a bedrock environmental law governing federal permits and working to open more public lands to oil and gas drilling. In recent weeks, the EPA has opted not to set stricter national air quality standards, and it is poised to defy a court order requiring that it limit a chemical found in drinking water that has been linked to neurological damage in babies. The agency soon plans to finalize a change to the Clean Water Act that would restrict the ability of states, tribes and the public to block federal approval for pipelines and some other energy related projects.

The documents; obtained by Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee include an exchange between two agencies that has not been entered into the public record as required under the Clean Air Act.

Details about objections from EPA staff could create legal problems for the administration’s Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, which requires U.S. cars, pickup trucks and SUVs to improve average fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent each year between model years 2021 and 2026. It replaces Obama era standards that would have improved the auto fleet’s average mileage by 5 percent a year over the same period.

In his letter, Carper argued the EPA violated federal rules by failing to enter all relevant documents into the public record, changing the rule after it was signed and not meeting its obligation to write its part of the mileage rule.

Jeff Lagda, a spokesman for the EPA inspector general, said in an email that the office is reviewing Carper’s letter.

The documents, however, reveal that EPA staff were sidelined as they warned that the revised standards had several defects.

Commenting on the preamble’s assertion that the government’s “action will result in reductions in climate change related impacts and most air pollutants compared to the absence of regulation,” EPA staffers wrote in an internal document in February that “this is not correct” from the agency’s perspective.

In a January 30 presentation to the head of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, according to a document obtained by The Post, staffers stated that the rule submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget did not reflect their work.

It noted that the EPA had not seen about two thirds of the 1,000-page document that Transportation Department staffers had submitted to the White House to justify the change in the mileage standards.

Four days before the rule was signed by Wheeler, the top EPA official in charge of setting fuel economy standards wrote an email saying Transportation Department officials had not addressed more than 250 comments by EPA experts.

“Factually inaccurate text has still not been corrected in numerous places,” Bill Charmley, who heads the assessment and standards division at EPA’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote in a March 26 email to his superiors.

Charmley warned that incorrect information in the rule would make it vulnerable to legal challenges. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The detailed comments Charmley referred to were made on documents the Transportation Department submitted to the White House for review earlier this year, which normally would be entered into the record under a requirement under the Clean Air Act.
Mike Danylak, a spokesman for Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), said in an email that the senator supports the new mileage rule “and the commonsense standards it established to protect America’s air, while preserving consumers’ vehicle choice.”

Barrasso looks forward to hearing more on the EPA’s work Wednesday, when Wheeler is set to testify before the committee, Danylak said.

Public records show that Wheeler made significant changes to the rule after he signed it, before it was published in the Federal Register, which is unusual. The rule Wheeler signed on March 30 has multiple errors, including one table on new mileage standards that says “passenger cars” when it should have said “light trucks” and an assertion that cars would become nearly 5 percent less carbon intensive between model years 2020 and 2021.

Schiermeyer, the EPA spokeswoman, said such changes are “commonly used by federal agencies to correct errors in notices prior to publication in the Federal Register,” and that Wheeler’s tweaks corrected “inadvertent errors in the pre publication version of the preamble and regulatory text.”

The ongoing fight over federal fuel efficiency requirements has unfolded in contentious fits and starts during President Trump’s first term. In 2018, the Trump administration first proposed weakening the 2009 requirements put in place by the Obama administration, which had argued that stricter standards would improve public health, mitigate climate change and save consumers money without compromising safety.

In contrast, the Trump administration has insisted that forcing automakers to increase the fuel economy of their fleets would make new vehicles more expensive and encourage people to drive older, less-safe cars and trucks. It has also cited arguments from the auto industry that the market has changed since the Obama era standards were developed namely, that low fuel prices have made buyers gravitate toward SUVs and pickup trucks in far larger numbers than smaller, more efficient cars.

The rule finalized this spring estimates there will be fewer accident related deaths over the lifetime of vehicles sold between 2021 and 2029 as more people trade older cars for newer, safer ones. The government’s own estimates, however, say more Americans will die as a result of increased air pollution during that period than if the existing standards remained in place.

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