President Donald Trump announced plans Wednesday to re-examine federal requirements governing the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks, moving forcefully against Obama-era environmental regulations that Trump says are stifling economic growth.
Trump was set to reveal his plans during a speech at an automotive testing center near Detroit, but he previewed the announcement during a roundtable meeting at the American Center for Mobility with auto company executives and workers, just before the speech.
"This is going to be a new era for American jobs and job creation," Trump said.
The EPA under Obama had promulgated a rule for cars and trucks requiring a fleet-wide average of 36 mpg in real-world driving by 2025.
Trump's announcement, while having no immediate effect, is expected to set the stage for lower fuel-efficiency standards as well as drawn-out legal battles with environmental groups and states such as California that adopted their own tough tailpipe standards for drivers.
"These standards are costly for automakers and the American people," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. He promised a "thorough review" that will "help ensure this national program is good for consumers and good for the environment."
The decision to reopen the review requires EPA to determine no later than April 2018, whether the 2022-2025 standards established are appropriate. If the EPA determines they are not appropriate, the agency will submit a new proposal next year.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers—which represents a dozen major car manufacturers including General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota—praised Trump's action. It said he was creating an opportunity for federal and state officials to "reach a thoughtful and coordinated outcome predicated on the best and most current data."
Environmental groups said Trump and his team appeared intent on easing gas-mileage requirements set by Obama.
"If they succeed, we'll pay more at the pump, depend more on oil from bad countries, drive up the trade deficit and pollute our kids' atmosphere," said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign.
As a practical matter, Trump's announcement will target the Obama administration's January decision to lock in strict gas mileage requirements for cars and light trucks, ending a review process before the Democrat left office.
Back in 2012, the Obama administration set fuel-economy regulations for model years 2017-2025 and agreed to complete a midterm evaluation by 2018. But seven days before Obama left office, the EPA decided to keep the stringent requirements it had set in place for model years 2022 to 2025. The industry balked at the decision, insisting it was rushed through to beat the change in administrations.
Trump said he's putting that midterm review back on track, so officials can spend another year studying the issue before setting new standards in 2018.
While the administration has not said explicitly it wants to weaken the standards, a senior White House official said the Obama-era EPA had ignored reams of data cited by the automotive industry. The official spoke on condition of anonymity at a White House briefing in order to outline the action.
The Auto Alliance last month urged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to relax the standards, saying they will drive up car costs, price customers out of the market and depress the industry. Obama's EPA had argued the costs to consumers were mitigated by gas savings and that the rules would decrease greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
Trump campaigned on eliminating "job killing" regulations, and the administration is expected to take additional steps in the coming days to roll back environmental regulations.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the change "makes no sense."
"Mileage standards save consumers money at the gas pump, make Americans less dependent on oil, reduce carbon pollution and advance innovation," she said.
After the speech, Trump will head to Nashville, Tennessee, to lay a wreath at President Andrew Jackson's tomb to mark what would have been Jackson's 250th birthday, before holding a campaign-style rally in the city.
Trump will tour Jackson's home, according to Howard Kittell, president and CEO of the Hermitage mansion. Jackson has enjoyed something of a resurgence thanks to Trump. During the campaign, some of Trump's aides took to comparing him to the former president—a fellow populist outsider who took on a member of the Washington establishment and ran a campaign railing against corrupt elites.