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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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More than 20,000 Haitians are gathered in Colombia for possible migration to U.S.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are tracking large groups of Haitians in Latin America, including more than 20,000 in Colombia, who like the thousands now massed on the Texas border may soon try to reach the U.S., according to an internal document obtained by NBC News.

The Department of Homeland Security document also said the DHS Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency’s internal watchdog, is investigating an incident in which a Border Patrol agent on horseback in Del Rio, Texas, grabbed a Haitian migrant by the shirt. The incident, captured by a news photographer, drew widespread criticism Monday, prompting White House press secretary Jen Psaki to describe it as “horrific.”

In addition to the 20,000 Haitians gathered in northern Colombia, DHS is also monitoring groups of about 1,500 in Panama and 3,000 in Peru, the document said. A senior DHS official said it remains to be seen when and whether those migrants will come to the U.S., but they have begun “staging” in the various countries, potentially signaling they are planning to travel in large numbers.

Like the surge of 15,000 Haitian migrants who arrived in Del Rio over the past week, most of the migrants in Central and South America left Haiti years ago, many of them after the 2010 earthquake, and have been living in other countries.

Recent economic conditions in those countries, as well as what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described as misinformation about the Biden administration’s willingness to take in Haitians, have triggered many to seek protections in the U.S.

When DHS has previously monitored caravans of migrants headed to the U.S. border in large numbers, there has been a two to three-week lag between their departure and their arrival. But many of the recently arrived Haitians took buses through Mexico, expediting their arrival and increasing their numbers.

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CIA director’s team member reported Havana Syndrome symptoms during India trip

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A CIA official reported symptoms consistent with so-called Havana Syndrome, a mysterious affliction that has struck diplomats, spies and other government workers at home and abroad, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News on Monday.

The unidentified employee was traveling with CIA director Bill Burns during a trip to India this month. The employee was immediately tested as part of a protocol the CIA has established to deal with the mysterious brain symptoms typically associated with Havana Syndrome and is receiving medical treatment, the sources said.

The incident was first reported by CNN.

This is the latest reported case of a U.S. government employee reporting symptoms associated with the mysterious ailment. Havana Syndrome first came into public view in 2017 after U.S. diplomats and other government workers stationed in Cuba reported feeling unusual physical sensations after hearing strange high- and low-pitched sounds. U.S. government employees have also reported cases while in China and the Washington, D.C. area.

In late August, at least two U.S. diplomats were medically evacuated from Vietnam after Havana Syndrome incidents were reported in the capital city of Hanoi ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ arrival.

“The health and well-being of American public servants is of paramount importance to the administration, and we take extremely seriously any report by our personnel of an anomalous health incident,” a senior administration official said Monday night. “It is a top priority for the U.S. government to determine the cause of these incidents as quickly as possible and that we ensure any affected individuals get the care they need.”

Many people who have experienced Havana Syndrome report experiencing vertigo, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and intense headaches. Some describe it as being hit by an invisible blast wave. Some have no longer been able to work.

The India incident has raised questions about whether a foreign adversary had intentionally targeted the CIA director’s staff, but the sources said the agency is unclear what exactly could have caused the incident. The case is one of a number of new incidents in recent months involving CIA personnel who experienced what U.S. officials call “anomalous health incidents,” the sources said.

A CIA spokeswoman declined to confirm the case in India but said the U.S. government and the agency are taking every incident seriously.

“Director Burns has made it a top priority to ensure officers get the care they need and that we get to the bottom of this,” the spokeswoman said. “We’ve strengthened efforts to determine the origins of the incidents, including assembling a team of our very best experts — bringing an intensity and expertise to this issue akin to our efforts to find Bin Ladin.”

The spokeswoman added that a panel of experts has been convened from across intelligence agencies “to work collectively to increase our understanding of the possible mechanisms that could be causing [anomalous health incidents].”

Many U.S. officials suspect the incidents, which have caused permanent brain injuries in some victims, are a result of an attack or surveillance operation by Russian spies, but the evidence is inconclusive.

The National Academies of Sciences said in a report last year the most likely cause of the injuries was directed microwave energy, but that conclusion is being debated in the scientific community.

Last week, deputy CIA director David Cohen said the agency is getting closer to solving the mystery, but there are limitations.

“In terms of have we gotten closer, I think the answer is yes — but not close enough to make analytic judgment that people are waiting for,” he said.

Josh Lederman contributed.



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Boris Johnson tells jab-sceptic Brazilian President to get 'great' AstraZeneca vaccine

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BORIS JOHNSON has told the jab-sceptic Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to get a dose of the “great” Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine.

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