By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday said it will push to lock in fuel efficiency standards central to outgoing President Barack Obama’s climate policy before the Trump administration takes over in January.
Automakers had appealed to President-elect Donald Trump, who has been critical of Obama's climate policies, to review the rules requiring them to nearly double fleet-wide fuel efficiency by 2025, saying they impose significant costs and are out of step with consumer preferences.
The EPA under law had to decide by April 2018 whether to modify the 2022-2025 model year vehicle emission rules requiring fleet-wide fuel efficiency to average more than 50 miles per gallon. Instead, the agency said it will end the public comment period by Dec. 30, and could move to lock in the rules after that date, and before the Obama administration leaves office on Jan. 20.
The EPA, in a statement, said it has concluded after a lengthy review that automakers can meet the 2025 standards.
"Car makers have developed more technologies to reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, and these technologies are entering the fleet faster than expected," the EPA said.
The main trade association representing U.S. automakers earlier this month asked Trump to review the automotive greenhouse gas rules, and other Obama administration actions that enable California and certain other states to mandate sales of electric vehicles.
Environmental groups applauded the administration move.
"What's not to like about a plan, agreed to by the automakers, that cuts oil use, saves money at the pump and reduces pollution?" said Daniel Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, a Washington, D.C. group that supports strong climate action.
The Republican U.S. Congress or the Trump administration could seek to reverse or modify the rules. However, if the current EPA rules are locked in, it could make it more difficult and time consuming for the new administration to undo them.
In 2011, Obama announced agreement with major automakers to nearly double fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg, which the administration said would save motorists $1.7 trillion in fuel costs over the life of the vehicles but cost the auto industry about $200 billion to comply with over 13 years.
The agreement included a "mid-term review" to decide whether the 2022-2025 model year requirements were feasible.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Franklin Paul and Meredith Mazzilli)