DETROIT -- Automakers relieved about the EPA's decision last week to reopen a review of Obama-era auto emissions standards now face a new political wild card in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The decision, announced by President Donald Trump during a visit to Michigan, restored a measure of stability to a regulatory process that automakers felt was cut short by the outgoing administration. But Pruitt's views on climate change and federal power challenge the foundations of the landmark deal they struck with the government in 2012 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve fuel economy and harmonize regulations.
Now that the EPA has reversed its January decision to finalize its emissions targets for 2022 to 2025 models, it will be up to Pruitt to determine by April 2018 whether those targets are achievable. And he will come to the question with a different set of assumptions from his predecessors.
Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general with close ties to that state's oil and gas industry, has questioned whether the burning of fossil fuels is a primary contributor to climate change. He also has challenged federal authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as an environmental pollutant and has staunchly advocated for federalism, thereby freeing states to make their environmental decisions.
When it comes to vehicle emissions mandates, that mindset would lead the industry down a potentially contentious path, pitting states such as California that want to impose their own, stricter air-quality laws against automakers that want a single national standard.
"It's a conundrum, for sure," Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book, told Automotive News. "The biggest tension point is that balance between a federal-level solution and still appreciating state-level needs."