WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is expected Tuesday to announce its final rule to roll back Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards, relaxing efforts to limit climate-warming tailpipe pollution and virtually undoing the government’s biggest effort to combat climate change.
The new rule, written by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, would allow vehicles on US roads to emit nearly 1 billion tons more carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the cars than they would have under the Obama standards and hundreds of millions of tons more than will be emitted under standards being implemented in Europe and Asia.
Trump administration officials have raced to complete the auto rule, even as the White House is consumed with responding to the coronavirus crisis. President Trump is expected to extol the rule, which will stand as one of the most consequential regulatory rollbacks of his administration, as a needed salve for an economy crippled by the pandemic.
The lower fuel-efficiency standard “is the single most important thing that the administration can do to fulfill President Trump’s campaign promise of reforming the regulatory state, and to undo the impact that the previous administration has had on the economy,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, an organization that supports the use of fossil fuels.
Trump’s critics say the rule shows the president’s disregard for science and could actually harm the economy over time. The administration’s own draft economic analyses of the rule showed that it could hurt consumers by forcing them to purchase more gasoline. And a February report by a panel of government-appointed scientists, many of them selected by the Trump administration, concluded that “there are significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis” of the rule.
“This is not just an inopportune moment to finalize a major rule-making,” said Senator Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee. “In this case, it’s a completely irresponsible one.”
Even many large automakers, which had asked Trump to slightly loosen the Obama-era rule, had urged him not to roll it back so aggressively because that plan is certain to get bogged down in court for years, leaving their industry in regulatory limbo.
The new rule, which is expected to be implemented by late spring, will roll back a 2012 rule that required automakers’ fleets to average about 54 miles per gallon by 2025. Instead, the fleets would have to average about 40 miles per gallon. To meet the new number, fuel economy standards would have to rise by about 1.5 percent a year, compared with the 5 percent annual increase required by the Obama rule. The industry has said it would increase fuel economy standards by about 2.4 percent a year without any regulation.
The new standard would lead to nearly 1 billion more tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide released and the consumption of about 80 billion more gallons of gasoline over the lifetime of the vehicles built during the terms of the rule, according to a recent draft of the plan.
For Trump, completing the rollback of his predecessor’s climate change policy caps a three-year march to weaken or undo nearly 100 rules and regulations that had limited industrial pollution of smog, toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases, and water contaminants.
Businesses said those rules had hamstrung their growth and left them less competitive in a global economy. Environmentalists said they were vital to the health and future of the planet and its inhabitants.
For environmentalists, the tailpipe-emissions rule culminates Trump’s quest to dismantle the United States’ efforts to fight climate change, which has so far included pulling out of the global Paris climate change accord, weakening rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electric plants, and undermining the basic science that underpins environmental regulations.