Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal teased that they’d gotten ahold of an advance draft of the EPA’s regulatory proposals for automobile fuel efficiency. According to the WSJ, EPA staffers found that cars and trucks could be even more fuel-efficient by 2020 than the 35 miles per gallon required by the latest update to CAFE standards.

The draft notes that advanced technologies like plug-in hybrid vehicles could help raise fuel efficiency well beyond 35 miles per gallon between 2020 and 2025. According to the WSJ, the draft document “suggests the EPA staff is contemplating issuing motor-vehicle emissions standards that would be more stringent than currently required by federal law and would be phased in more quickly.” The EPA’s rule-making notice is expected to be officially released on June 21.

“One critical element in this approach is the time frame over which we should consider new GHG [greenhouse gas] standards for light-duty vehicles,” the document says. “We request comment on the advantages and disadvantages of establishing standards for the 2020 or 2025 time frame, and even longer.”

The rule-making decision expected to come out of these findings would be the EPA’s first action in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in April 2007 that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Of course, whether EPA administrator Stephen Johnson will follow the recommendations of his staff is unclear. He’s overruled them in the past on decisions about smog and California’s request for a waiver that would let the state set tougher auto-emissions standards than the federal government.

Yesterday, two Democratic lawmakers issued a letter [PDF] to President Bush urging him to increase fuel efficiency standards to coincide with the recommendations of this rule-making draft from EPA. In the letter, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) ask Bush to set fuel economy standards at the maximum feasible level prescribed by his own agencies.

“With gas over $4 a gallon, we need to do everything we can to reduce demand and ease the burden on American families,” wrote the representatives. “Increasing fuel efficiency is an integral part of reducing demand and the price of gas, and we are pleased that your administration recognizes the capability and need for implementing stronger fuel efficiency standards.”