Jul 28, 2020 - Energy & Environment

EPA watchdog puts new scrutiny on Trump's auto emission rules

Illustration of a speeding car with a flying eagle above it passing by in the opposite direction

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The EPA's internal watchdog is opening a probe into how the agency wrote controversial rules that weakened Obama-era carbon emissions standards for cars and light trucks.

Why it matters: The Obama-era emissions and mileage standards that extended into the mid-2020s were a pillar of the former president's climate change agenda.

  • The Trump administration's rewrite has been among the most sprawling and bitter regulatory fights in recent years, and has led to splits within the auto industry, too.
  • The inspector general said the office will explore whether the rules met transparency and record-keeping requirements and "followed the EPA’s process for developing final regulatory actions."
  • The new probe opens another front in the ongoing legal and political tussles over the standards.

The big picture: The prior rules would have required roughly 5% annual efficiency improvements, while the rewritten standards finalized this year mandate 1.5% year-over-year gains.

  • Trump officials called the Obama standards unwieldy and said the rewritten rules will cut traffic deaths — a conclusion that critics contest.

The intrigue: The ultimate shape of U.S. auto rules will be in flux for a while. The new standards are being litigated, and if Joe Biden wins, he'd look to revive more stringent requirements and extend them.

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