Media Day kicks off with EPA Administrator Wheeler

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler drew a big crowd speaking at the opening of Media Day at the 2019 Washington Auto Show. A crowd of reporters heard him discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to create a single national fuel economy standard that California, with its separate standards, could adapt to.

Wheeler framed the Trump Administration’s proposed fuel economy standards as a way to save money and lives. The EPA has offered eight options for standards, from 2021 to 2026, with the preferred approach to lock in the 2020 standards until 2026.

Freezing fuel economy standards in 2020, instead of using the gradually increasing standards the automakers agreed to under the Obama administration in 2012, would save consumers an average of $2,300 for each new car acquired, Wheeler said.

The Trump Administration’s choice would also save 1,000 lives a year because with new cars more affordable, and better designed, safer vehicles would be on the road, Wheeler claimed.

“Our goal is to get more Americans into safer, cleaner vehicles,” said Wheeler.

Officials in the Trump Administration’s EPA have always said they prefer a single national fuel economy standard, something the auto industry definitely wants. California and several states following California, including Maryland, have said they will sue if the EPA insists on establishing scaled-back standards.

Wheeler told reporters that if California sues, the EPA will vigorously defend its position. A court battle would mean years of uncertainty for automakers and dealers.

“Federalism does not mean one state can dictate policy for the entire country,” said Wheeler.

The issue would be especially fraught for Washington-area dealers if two standards became law. Maryland follows California fuel economy standards, but Virginia does not. So theoretically, a consumer who could not find the car he or she wanted at a Maryland dealership could be able to buy it in Virginia, since the two states would receive a different stock of cars for the different standards.

Wheeler said the final federal rule for fuel economy standards will be issued later this year.

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