EPA Scientists' Advice Disregarded
In June and July 2018, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff repeatedly notified White House officials that there were significant errors in a model, quantifying the costs and benefits of vehicle fuel efficiency standards. The model, which was developed by the Department of Transportation (DOT)'s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), indicated that weakening existing fuel efficiency standards would have net benefits. It was, therefore, relied upon by the Trump administration to justify the proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, which would freeze fuel economy standards at 2020 levels, rather than increasing those standards each year as provided for in current regulations.
Prior to publication of the proposed SAFE Vehicles Rule, EPA staff identified several errors in the NHTSA model. (Those errors were subsequently confirmed by independent researchers.) EPA staff further found that, when those errors were corrected, the NHTSA model showed that weakening existing standards as proposed in the SAFE Vehicles Rule would actually have net costs. That finding was communicated to White House officials on several occasions in June and July 2018. Nevertheless, the officials moved forward with release of the proposed rule, concluding that it was "not . . . worth pausing the process" to address the errors.
On May 18, 2020, the New York Times reported that career staff at EPA had been excluded from the development of the SAFE Vehicles Rule. Documents obtained by the Times indicate that EPA staff had not seen two-thirds of the document that DOT sent to the White House to justify the rule. In an email sent on March 26, 2020, the head of EPA's assessment and standards vision at EPA's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory, Bill Charmley, wrote:
"In our review of the latest preamble sent by [DOT] on 3/24/2020, it appears that while [DOT] did incorporate a handful of the EPA comments provided . . . on 2/25/2020, the vast majority of EPA's comments have not yet been addressed.
In the day we've had to review the latest preamble, we have identified more than 250 EPA comments that have not been addressed."