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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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N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Covid book deal worth more than $5.1 million

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being paid more than $5.1 million for his book on leadership during the coronavirus crisis, his office said Monday.

The Democratic governor and his office had for months refused to disclose how much he was paid for the book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

State Attorney General Letitia James’ office has been investigating whether the governor misused state resources to write and promote the book.

The governor’s office released the book deal information Monday, when Cuomo released his taxes and filed his state financial disclosure form.

“The notable change from year to year is income from ‘American Crisis,'” Cuomo’s director of communications, Rich Azzopardi, said in a statement.

He said Cuomo was paid $3.12 million last year, and will be paid another $2 million over the next two years.

‎”Net income from the $3,120,000 million payment less expenses and taxes is $1,537,508,” Azzopardi said.

Of the remaining $1.5 million, Cuomo “donated a third to the United Way of New York State for state-wide COVID relief and vaccination effort, and is giving the remainder in a trust for his three daughters equally who worked with the Governor during this pandemic and did what he calls ‘tireless and effective work for all New Yorkers’ and gave him ‘the strength and love to make it through the crisis every day,’” Azzopardi said.

The sum Cuomo is getting from Crown publishing far exceeds the $225,000-a-year salary he makes as governor.

The book, which went on sale in October, has also landed Cuomo in legal trouble.

Last month, the state comptroller’s office authorized the state A.G. to investigate whether Cuomo used staffers and state resources to assist in writing the book, which is prohibited by state law.

Cuomo has insisted that any work by state employees on the book was voluntary. A spokesman has said any work on the book was “in compliance with state ethics laws and done on their personal time.”

James’s office is also investigating multiple sexual harassment allegations against the third-term governor.

Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately, but acknowledged that he may have acted in ways that made people feel uncomfortable. He initially said that was unintentional and apologized, but has more recently said he’d done nothing wrong. He’s pushed back against calls from the vast majority of New York’s congressional delegation that he resign, saying he won’t bow to “cancel culture.”

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Biden tries to navigate shifting Democratic politics on Israel

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is facing down pressure from progressives to take a heavier hand with Israel amid its latest hostilities with the Palestinians.

While Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that Israel has “a special responsibility to protect civilians in the course of its self-defense,” U.S. officials have not called on their Israeli counterparts to alter or halt their response to Palestinian rocket fire.

That puts the administration at odds with the growing set of Democratic voters and elected officials who are casting a critical eye — and harsh language — at Israel. Those voices reflect a gradual but noticeable shift in the willingness of Democrats to challenge Israeli policy over the last dozen years.

“There is a desire for a more even-handed approach,” said Logan Bayroff, vice president of communications for J-Street, a progressive group that wants the U.S. government to call for an immediate cease-fire and to place new regulations on the nearly $4 billion in aid the U.S. sends each year to Israel. “The Biden administration, at this point in time, does not seem to have gotten that message.”

Hostilities have killed more than 200 people, most of them Palestinians, over the last week, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Sunday that they should be ready for an extended military campaign.

Netanyahu is a political flashpoint within the Democratic Party. During the last Democratic administration, Netanyahu repeatedly thumbed his nose at President Barack Obama — going so far as to rail against the Iran nuclear deal from the House floor.

Then, when President Donald Trump took office in 2017, Netanyahu locked arms with his American counterpart. The two men shared an affinity for nationalist policies and rhetoric, and Trump encouraged Netanyahu to extend Israeli settlements into Palestinian-held territory.

Some progressives want Biden to step in and stop Netanyahu now, and to restrict his ability to use American cash and weapons to fight Palestinians.

“The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a statement to NBC News. “It would be appalling for the Biden administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians.”

That sale, first reported by The Washington Post, was approved by Biden this month.

“If this goes through, this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a cease-fire,” Omar said.

Omar, elected in 2018, is among a relatively junior set of frequent Israel critics in Congress. What concerns veteran Israel hawks in the Democratic Party is that more moderate lawmakers are publicly questioning Israel’s actions.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and one of Israel’s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill, said in a statement over the weekend that there must be a “full accounting” of strikes that led to civilian deaths.

“I am deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets,” Menendez said.

“In response to thousands of rocket attacks fired by Hamas aimed at civilians, Israel has every right to self-defense from terrorists committed to wipe her off the face of the map,” he added. “But no matter how dangerous and real that threat may be, I have always believed the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship flourishes when it is based on the shared values of democracy, freedom, pluralism, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

A group of Jewish House Democrats last week released a letter to Biden in which they wrote “the United States cannot simply hope and wait for the situation to improve” with “more lives being lost each day.”

Jeremy Bash, a Democrat who served as chief of staff to the defense secretary during the Obama administration, said his party is still fundamentally pro-Israel. He noted that the basic outlines of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians have not changed much in recent years, even as the issue has become more politically fraught within Democratic circles.

“It shouldn’t be, and it’s wrong,” Bash said. “I do worry that it has become that.”

But while the Biden administration has stopped the U.N. Security Council from adopting any policy or statement about the conflict, one former Obama administration national security official said the White House’s effort to at least placate fellow Democrats was evident in Blinken’s remark about Israel’s burden of adhering to a higher standard of protecting civilians.

“You don’t have to parse the language,” the former Obama aide said. “It’s the fact that he said it about Israel, period.”

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Irish Taoiseach launches Brexit attack after showdown with Boris: 'Damage can't be undone'

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BREXIT is a “major step backwards” the damage from which “cannot be undone”, Ireland’s Taoiseach has declared in a blunt assessment of Britain’s decision to quit the bloc, after his crunch meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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