House panel to grill administration on fuel standard plan

A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpanel on Wednesday will question Obama administration officials on proposed fuel standards for cars and trucks, amid the chairman’s concerns the administration might have violated laws by crafting them in secret.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has said he’s concerned the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which drew up the standards together, made a deal in secret without the input of consumers and based on “political haggling” and not science. Officials from the EPA and NHTSA are listed as witnesses.

Issa’s committee is investigating how the agencies wrote the new fuel-economy and carbon emissions standards, which would apply to models made from 2017 to 2025 and eventually require average fleetwide fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon.

The proposed standards, unveiled in July, were drawn up after negotiations with auto manufacturers such as Detroit-area companies General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group, and Japan-based Toyota Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. Environmental groups and the United Auto Workers, an industry worker union, also support the standards.

In August Issa wrote a letter to the Obama administration requesting a number of documents, including communications among administration officials and automakers, as well as studies the agencies relied on in drafting the rules He wrote he was “concerned that a deal has been struck between the Administration and special interests and that the rulemaking process will be a mere formality.”

In late September Issa alleged that EPA had “successfully avoided scrutiny of its actions by the Judicial branch of government as well” by getting auto companies in the negotiations to agree not to sue the agency after final standards were issued.

Among the administration officials testifying are Margo Oge, director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality; Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation; and NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates policies that reduce pollution and address climate change, has fired back pre-emptively in a blog posting: “Issa’s claim that the standards are illegal seems to ignore that the agencies are being set based on laws passed by Congress –- the Clean Air Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 –- the latter Issa voted for and the former was passed before he came to Congress and has subsequently been upheld by multiple court rulings including the Supreme Court.”

“By unleashing better technology and American ingenuity, we can spend less on gasoline, create new jobs, clean up our air, and break our reliance on oil,” Brendan Bell, senior Washington representatives for clean vehicles programs at UCS, wrote in a blog posting Tuesday, adding that Issa should “please step away from the clean car deal and turn off the alarm.”