Two Democratic Congressional leaders are calling out U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler for knowingly deceiving the public and Congress on the proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule.
Senator Tom Carper, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Representative Frank Pallone, Jr., Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent a letter to Wheeler expressing concern that the EPA head “[has] made numerous public statements, including statements to Congress, that directly conflict with the information and analyses prepared by EPA’s career experts.”
Through the SAFE Vehicles rule, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and EPA have proposed rolling back the Obama-era clean car standards — which harmonize fuel efficiency standards through the DOT with greenhouse gas emissions standards through the EPA.
The problem, according to Carper and Pallone, Jr., is that the EPA and DOT decision makers have dismissed mountains of evidence provided by the agencies’ staff experts and by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This evidence shows clearly that the rollback “would dramatically weaken future vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards, significantly harm the American economy, and reduce America’s global competitiveness,” while also making automobile travel more dangerous.
To the latter point, Carper and Pallone, Jr. wrote in their letter:
“The EPA career staff also observed that the ‘proposed standards are detrimental to safety, rather than beneficial.’
Despite the fact that you were briefed on these concerns before the rule was proposed, you have continued to make assertions about the proposal that you must know do not reflect the views of EPA’s expert staff.”
On the subject of emissions, the Congressmen point to comments that Wheeler made in a Congressional hearing, in which Wheeler claimed that “the impact of the CO2 reductions are pretty similar to what the Obama administration proposal” would have achieved.
“These and other statements like it are remarkable since analysis in the proposed rule clearly demonstrates the carbon pollution will increase by 8 billion tons during this century if the Trump Administration proposal is finalized,” the Congressmen wrote.
Calling Out Oil Industry Influence
Carper and Pallone, Jr. also accuse Wheeler of doing the oil industry’s bidding, at the expense of the American public. The letter quotes Wheeler’s assertion that the proposed rollback “has nothing to do with the oil industry. We’re not doing this for the oil industry. I’m not doing this for the oil industry.”
However, as the Congressmen note, “it’s hard to discern any other purpose for the proposal, since no entity in the automotive industry has requested such an extreme rollback of the current vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.”
They point to the “covert social media and lobbying campaign” that was launched last summer by groups tied to the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), a trade organization representing oil refiners and gasoline marketers, with close ties to Koch Industries and Koch-funded advocacy groups. The breadth of that campaign was exposed in a December New York Times investigation, which laid out how Marathon Petroleum, the nation's largest oil refiner, worked with AFPM and other Koch affiliates to circulate letters to Congress and agencies to lay out arguments for a more extreme rollback of the standards than the automotive industry was seeking.
The Times revealed how AFPM, using a front group called Energy4US, deployed Facebook advertisements to prompt thousands of identical public comments filed in the Federal Register supporting the proposed rule. An earlier article on the Facebook ads by ProPublica had linked AFPM to Energy4US, and researchers at DeSmog's KochvsClean project had since connected the front group to more than one-quarter of all public comments that the DOT had received on the proposed rule, while also revealing that the Consumer Energy Alliance was connected to the campaign.
More recently, researchers at Documented surfaced records that revealed that AFPM was actively recruiting Republican Governors to sign onto a public comment letter supporting the weaker CAFE (corporate average fuel efficiency) standards, while also “shopping around” a pre-written op-ed with language borrowed from the American Energy Alliance, a free market advocacy group run by a former Koch Industries lobbyist.
To get to the bottom of how deeply involved the oil industry was in creating the new rules, Carper and Pallone, Jr. requested records from the EPA of all agency meetings and correspondences involving the SAFE Vehicles rule with: Marathon Petroleum, AFPM (and member companies), Koch Industries, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its members, and Americans for Prosperity, the main advocacy arm of the Koch network.
In December, after the New York Times bombshell was published, Carper and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer made a similar request of the agency for records of meetings and written correspondences with Marathon alone. The agency has yet to provide those records, and now Carper is asking again for those and much more.
The SAFE Vehicles rule is “based on bogus science and fundamentally flawed assumptions,” Carper said in April when documents revealed that the agencies had dismissed their experts' own data. “The administration’s own EPA itemized its technical concerns about the plan’s baseless claims, but DOT and the White House seems to have willfully ignored much of it.”
Main image: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture, by Lance Cheung, public domain.