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Schumer urges EPA to keep mileage standards for passenger cars

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on May

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on May 22. Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

Sen. Chuck Schumer called on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Sunday to abandon plans to roll back mileage standards for passenger vehicles, arguing that scrapping rules designed to increase fuel efficiency will hurt consumers already reeling from skyrocketing gas prices.

Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said Pruitt’s proposal to vacate Obama-era rules that would require new passenger vehicles to have average gas mileage of more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025 also will contribute to climate change and make the U.S. auto industry less competitive.

“Just as the rest of the world evolves, gets more fuel-efficient and smarter about maximizing the resources that keep our cars moving, America is proposing a proverbial jalopy of a plan,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a news conference outside a Mobil station in Manhattan, which was charging $4.15 for a gallon of unleaded gasoline.

“I am urging the EPA to make a U-turn on this very bad decision and keep the original plan to ensure our cars — and wallets — get more miles per gallon on the books,” Schumer said.

The EPA submitted a proposal last week to the White House Office of Management and Budget that would roll back rules that would require automakers to nearly double the fuel economy of passenger cars, from about 25 mpg to more than 50 mpg. The OMB review is the final step before the proposal is published in the federal register and opened to public comment.

Schumer said the proposal will lead to increased gas consumption, which will lead to greater demand and higher prices. The average price for gas in New York State is $3.093 per gallon, up from $2.948 a month ago, and $2.513 at this time last year. The average price on Long Island is $3.10, up a third from last year, Schumer said.

“Instead of ensuring our cars are more fuel efficient for people to save money at the pump, the EPA is A-OK with our cars getting gas mileage well below what consumers deserve,” Schumer said. “Talk about economic whiplash for the American consumer.”

Automakers complained the Obama administration’s plan to raise gas mileage standards was burdensome, but Schumer said the EPA proposal will make things even worse for manufacturers. The Clean Air Act of 1970 grants California special status to set its own vehicle pollution standards. Twelve other states, including New York, follow the California model.

“Those states could keep stricter emissions regulations on the books, upending the auto industry by requiring automakers to manufacture cars to meet different sets of fuel efficiency across different states,” Schumer said. “Scenarios like this could have major financial consequences for the auto industry and the millions of people they employ because they just spell chaos.”

Schumer also said scrapping the fuel-efficiency regulation would discourage automakers from investing in research into hybrids and electric-powered cars.

He said, “The bottom line is that a rollback like this, where we make our cars less efficient than the technology of today allows for, would compound price spikes like this year’s by stopping innovation and improvements in fuel efficiency for vehicles of the future. And that just means people spend money they shouldn’t have to spend.”

Schumer acknowledged that doubling fuel efficiency by 2025 won’t have much of an impact on gas prices this summer, although he said it could discourage some speculators from investing in oil futures, which might lead to lower prices.

But he said better fuel efficiency makes sense for the economy and the environment.

“You don’t have to be an economist to understand that scrapping plans to increase the fuel efficiency of our cars will force us all to shell out even more and more money for gas down the road,” he said.

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