EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler believes a huge surge in electric vehicle purchases was “the only way” for automakers to comply with fuel economy standards set by the Obama administration, according to a recent interview.

Wheeler discussed a number of topics in a new interview with Reuters, including changes to fuel economy standards and climate change.

When asked if the Obama administration was trying to “disfavor fossil fuels and favor EVs,” Wheeler’s answer was clear:

“Oh absolutely. The only way you could comply ultimately with Obama numbers is to have 30 percent electric vehicles and that’s not what American consumers are buying. Right now we’re…2 percent electric vehicles. I don’t think this country is going to turn the fleet over to get to 30 percent electric vehicles by 2025. I just don’t think that’s possible. The automobile companies are paying a record number of fees for non-compliance.”

The former coal lobbyist said the EPA is trying to set “realistic” fuel standards, saying there’s “only three companies this year that are able to comply with Obama regulations.”

A new report claims the EPA and Transportation Department have settled on a plan which require automakers to raise the average fuel economy of their fleets “by about 1 percent annually between 2021 and 2026,” a very slight increase instead of the complete freeze that was expected.

Wheeler wouldn’t comment on that, but also noted the EPA has “taken comments from a lot of different interest groups into account and we’re trying to come up with a final regulation that addresses a majority of concerns.” He also expressed hope that California and other states won’t sue the federal government over the new standards once they’re in place.

The administrator also criticized the former administration’s evaluation in terms of fuel standards, calling it a “rush job.” Wheeler said,

“They started it November 2016 after the election, they did a 15-day notice in comment and they finalized it before Jan. 20th. You just can’t review all the data and inputs in that sort of time and they didn’t. They didn’t look at the most recent data and information.”

Wheeler’s EPA is looking to finalize the new standards by “late spring, early summer.”

On Climate

Wheeler was also asked a number of questions regarding CO2 emissions and climate change. Reuters asked him, “CO2 emissions have gone up by the largest amount in eight years. According to some studies, CO2 emissions would go up under your proposed ACE (Affordable Clean Energy Rule). This would suggest stronger regulation is needed. What do you define as strong regulation?”

Wheeler’s response was lengthy, but mostly danced around the question. He mainly discussed the legal battle with the Clean Power Plan before ultimately ending with, “I believe we are on a course of getting meaningful CO2 reduction. I think that’s the responsible thing for a regulatory agency to do.”

Reuters brought up Wheeler’s past comments about how “climate change is not the greatest problem facing us right now” – the administrator recently said clean drinking water is a bigger issue. Of the EPA’s decisions regarding climate science, Wheeler again had a lengthy response, including:

“I can’t just look at the science in a vacuum. We are not a science academy making proclamations about science. We are a regulatory agency. We have to take the science we have developed and apply it to our regulatory constraints that we have and regulatory authorities that we have and move forward. I said before I took this job that I believe in climate change and man has an impact on climate change. But I believe the number one issue facing our planet today is water.”

Reuters noted that for Wheeler’s policies to be effective, they need more time to be enacted, essentially ensuring that Trump would need to win the 2020 election for the EPA to follow through.

“He’s going to,” Wheeler said. “I’m looking at a five-and-a-half-year planning horizon at this point. I’m going to have five-and-a-half years to complete everything we are trying to do. And it’s why I continue to talk about water and the importance about doing something for water.”

Reuters has a full transcript of the interview, which touches on a number of other topics as well.

Electrek’s Take

Wheeler didn’t outright deny the numbers released in the recent New York Times report involving a 1% annual mpg increase in fuel economy standards from 2021 to 2026, which leads us to believe those estimates are likely close to accurate, if not spot on.

His comment about setting “realistic” fuel economy standards for automakers is unsurprising, but telling. “Realistic” is code for “much easier” and does little to address reducing CO2 emissions in a meaningful way, which seems like a strange concern for the…Environmental Protection Agency.

Wheeler also seems to be establishing another sort of pattern: when it comes to climate change, pivot to talk about clean drinking water. I don’t think anyone here is arguing against the importance of clean drinking water. But the two issues are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re linked.


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