Fuel Fight.

Author:Yeatman, William

AFTER BAILING OUT two of the "Big Three" Detroit automakers, Pres. Barack Obama called in his markers during the summer of 2011. That is when his Administration announced an agreement with major car manufacturers to increase Federal fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. At the time, fleet averages (including cars and light-duty trucks) were about 27 mpg; doubling that figure in 14 years was a tall order requiring technological breakthroughs that might not happen. Accordingly, the 2011 agreement included an escape hatch. The plan stipulated for a "mid-term review" process, by which regulatory agencies could revisit their fuel efficiency targets and change course if necessary.

Under the agreement's terms, the review was due by April 2018. All of the parties to the original accord understood that the mid-term review would entail a process that unfolded up to the 2018 deadline in order to best inform the final decision with the latest data. If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016, the process would have occurred as initially expected, but then Donald Trump won, and the Obama Administration scrambled to finish a mid-term review during the outgoing president's lame-duck session.

After a six-week rulemaking conducted with breakneck speed, Obama's agencies completed their midterm review with only eight days to spare before Trump occupied the White House. To no one's surprise, the Obama Administration affirmed its original 54.5 MPG (by 2025) target.

About a month after Pres. Trump took office, his Administration announced it would reconsider Obama's lame-duck determination. Ultimately, the Trump Administration proposed to freeze the fuel efficiency standards at their 2021 targets through 2025. That proposal, however, has yet to be finalized. When it is made final, it will be challenged in court by progressive state attorneys general and environmental groups.

With this context in mind, let's turn to Europe, which has more stringent fuel efficiency standards than we do. To be precise, the European Union regulates tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases, the control of which is effectively coterminous with the regulation of fuel efficiency. Current regulations for the EU translate to fuel efficiency standards that are roughly commensurate with what the Obama-era standards would have required, based on my eyeball approximation of a New York Times chart comparing the two regimes.

So, how is that working out for Europeans?--not...

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