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How climate change deniers inserted themselves into the EPA’s fuel economy rollback fight

In the ongoing saga of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back fuel economy standards, it’s been known that automakers sought to ease the rising MPG requirements set by the Obama administration. But a new report reveals how a number of climate change deniers injected themselves into the conversation, pushing the administration to go “much further” than planned.

Recently released government emails show how these deniers even went so far as to call automakers “the opposition,” according to a new report from the New York Times.

Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute — described by the Times as “a free-market think tank in Washington that disputes that climate change is a problem” — did just that in a May 2018 email to an EPA official, among others.

Ebell, who leads the climate change-denying “Cooler Heads Coalition,” wrote that the administration should stick to the rollback. He was also, unsurprisingly, selected to lead the Trump administration’s EPA transition team in 2016.

As the administration finalizes its plan to roll back fuel economy standards, the automakers are concerned about a “split market” between California and states which plan to follow higher standards, and the other states. Last month, 17 automakers wrote a letter asking to stop the planned rollback.

Prior to that, in a letter sent to Trump this May, Ebell and his group wrote about the automakers’ pushback. From the Times:

“Their main concern is the expected legal battle with California,” they wrote. “In fact, what many liberal California politicians really want to do is ban gasoline-powered cars altogether.” Their letter went on to say: “You should dismiss this concern. We agree that in an ideal world, California would negotiate with you in good faith, but we all know that is not a reality in this current political climate.”

The administration still hasn’t shown any signs of pulling back.

As National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deputy administrator Heidi King simply told the Times, “In my experience, these rules tend to go to the courts regardless.” The NHTSA is making the new rules in conjunction with the EPA.

The Times also notes how another conservative group, American Commitment, generated “almost 1,600 public comments in support of the rollback, or 13 percent of the 12,000 comments received and posted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

Many of these particular comments came with the same boilerplate language accusing Obama and California as wanting to ban the internal combustion engine, and so forth.

Even the oil companies seem to want no part of these efforts. BP sent a letter to EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler in June that found the oil giant siding with the automakers, asking the administration to focus on improving fuel economy, the Times said.

Electrek’s Take

As unsurprising as any of this might be to anyone who’s been following what’s going on with the fuel economy rollback — or with the current EPA and administration in general — it’s still gross beyond belief. A group of people that has absolutely no business even being involved in these decisions instead has an incredible amount of influence.

We’ve reached a point where even BP — BP! — is pushing back against the administration’s efforts.

Automakers are still not without blame in their role here. Not by a long shot, not at all. They’re the ones who opened this Pandora’s box and pushed the EPA to reduce emissions standards the first chance they got.

But now, at this point in time, it seems clear that if it were just a discussion between automakers that have realized the error of their ways and an administration that actually cared about listening to their concerns about what might happen to the market… or an EPA that cared about reducing emissions… or improving the environment… things could be at least a little different. There could be some sort of “compromise,” at a minimum.

But it’s not.

If you’re looking for a glimmer of hope on this, look to King’s quote about how “these rules tend to go to the courts regardless.” California and 17 other states already filed suit against the EPA last year for its proposed rollback. Upon finalization of the plan, legal challenges against the rollback only seem set to increase.

States will be leading the way in that regard, but after all this, wouldn’t it be something if the automakers stepped up with a legal pushback of their own? If the rules are indeed finalized as expected, we’re curious to see what the next move will be from the industry as they face the dreaded “split market.” After all, there’s nothing stopping them from wanting to meet the Obama-era standards on their own.

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Phil Dzikiy is an Editor/Writer with Electrek/9to5Mac. Tips: