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EPA expected to announce rollback of Obama-era mileage standards

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Manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors initially agreed to the rules as part of a much-heralded agreement, but they later reversed course, arguing that the rules would be too expensive and would threaten U.S. jobs, especially as American motorists begin switching from smaller, fuel-efficient sedans and hybrids to more gas-hungry SUVs and pickups.

Not all automakers support a rollback, however, and the debate has led to an unusual split between manufacturers and key auto suppliers who support the 54.5 mpg target, according to a new study by CALSTART, a California-based consortium aimed at developing clean transportation technologies.

“We found that suppliers strongly support the standards and are encouraging the administration to stay the course,” said CALSTART President John Boesel. “They felt (the 54.5 mpg target for 2025) was feasible and do-able.”

Under the Obama administration, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards were raised twice after years of stagnation. The current targets aims to boost the mileage of the average new vehicle sold in the U.S. to 54.5 mpg by 2025 — though that figure is a little misleading. Due to adjustments in testing procedures and credits the industry can earn, the actual target is in the low to mid-40 mpg range.

Most experts agree that figure is possible, but the question is at what cost — and with what impact. The general consensus is that the standard will require a sharp increase in the use of electrified powertrain technologies, including conventional hybrids, plug-ins, and battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs. A 2010 study by the Center for Automotive Research, in Ann Arbor, Michigan indicated this would add thousands of dollars to the cost of the typical vehicle and, by driving down new vehicle demand, cost tens of thousands of industry jobs.

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But other research suggests such dire warnings are overblown. The price of current state-of-the-art lithium batteries has fallen by over 70 percent since the beginning of the decade, when the 2025 standards were being negotiated. And a study released by the Boston Consulting Group last December forecast that by the time the 54.5 mpg target goes into effect the cost of owning and operating an all-electric vehicle would be roughly comparable to a conventional gas model.

Ironically, even as automakers have pushed for a rollback, they have radically ramped up their electrification programs. GM plans to have around two dozen BEVs in its showrooms by mid-decade. Volkswagen will launch 50 by the same time. Volvo says every model it sells will use some form of electrification, a target several other marques, including Infiniti, have also laid out. Nissan announced plans last week to add an assortment of its own pure electric models, and Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault Nissan Alliance, said in an interview last autumn that the Japanese side of the group will not back off of its mileage commitment no matter what the EPA decides.

The administration could completely gut the program, says one expert.

The administration could completely gut the program, says one expert.

The administration could completely “gut the 2025 program,” Margo Oge, the former director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, the department that helped negotiate the 2010 mileage compromise, has warned.

Exactly how much of a cut Pruitt will call for is uncertain and there is some concern that he might also try to eliminate the special exemption Congress wrote into the 1970 Clean Air Act for the traditionally smoggy state of California. It currently has the right to set its own emissions targets, routinely tougher than the EPA’s national standards. By lowering acceptable levels of CO2, blamed for global warming, California can effectively force higher mileage targets even if the national standard drops.

And 11 other states — collectively accounting for about one-third of the American new car market — have adopted the California guidelines.

For his part, EPA chief Pruitt has said “California is not the arbiter” of mileage rules and insisted the state “can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be.”

California Air Resources Board chairperson Mary Nichols has said she would be willing to discuss the merits of changes to the CAFE rules, but stressed that, “absent any such evidence” to support a rollback, “we will certainly resist any changes.”

Whatever the Trump administration calls for, the issue is expected to wind up in court. Groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists have also called out individual manufacturers who support a rollback. That could create problems in the court of public opinion, with studies routinely finding that even with gas prices well below previous records, mileage remains a hot-button issue with motorists.

The White House has until April 1 to complete its version of the mid-term review, though it could take time before any final revisions to the CAFE standards are put in place — especially if opponents challenge the move in court.

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Keir Starmer's Labour Party plummets as Boris Johnson doubles lead in new poll

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THE TORIES have doubled their lead over Labour in the latest YouGov poll as Boris Johnson’s party continues to enjoy favourable ratings thanks to the huge success of the Covid vaccine rollout.

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Attorney General Garland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees

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WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday rescinded a Trump-era memo that curtailed the use of consent decrees that federal prosecutors have used in sweeping investigations of police departments.

Garland issued a new memorandum to all U.S. attorneys and other Justice Department leaders spelling out the new policies on civil agreements and consent decrees with state and local governments.

The memo comes as the Justice Department shifts its priorities to focus more on civil rights issues, criminal justice overhauls and policing policies in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

In easing restrictions placed on the use of consent decrees, the Justice Department is making it easier for its prosecutors to use the tool to force changes at police departments and other government agencies with widespread abuse and misconduct.

The memo in particular rescinds a previous memo issued by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions shortly before he resigned in November 2018.

Democrats have long argued the ability of the Justice Department’s civil rights division to conduct sweeping probes of police departments had been curtailed under President Donald Trump. The so-called pattern or practice investigations examine whether systemic deficiencies contribute to misconduct or enable it to persist.

“This memorandum makes clear that the Department will use all appropriate legal authorities to safeguard civil rights and protect the environment, consistent with longstanding Departmental practice and informed by the expertise of the Department’s career workforce,” Garland said.

The Justice Department didn’t totally ban pattern or practice investigations under Trump, but former Attorney General William Barr suggested they may have been previously overused.

As attorney general in the Obama administration, Eric Holder frequently criticized violent police confrontations and opened a series of civil rights investigations into local law enforcement practices. The civil rights investigations often ended with court-approved consent decrees that mandated reforms.

The consent decrees included those with the police in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown and in Baltimore following the police custody death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

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SNP outlines when Scotland would hold independence referendum after elections

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SNP John Swinney has outlined when his party would hold a Scottish independence referendum if they won a majority in the next election.

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