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Trump Administration Rolls Back Fuel Economy Standards; Opponents Vow Court Fight

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) -- The Trump administration has finalized a roll back of strict Obama-era vehicle mileage standards Tuesday, gutting a major component in the battle against climate change.

California, along with other states and environmental groups, have vowed to challenge the new standards from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department in court.

The new rules would require automakers to increase fuel economy across their fleets by 1.5% a year, reaching an average of 40 miles per gallon by 2026. The 2012 Clean Car Standards put in place under President Barack Obama mandated a 5% annual increase, and reaching an average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Tuesday criticized the rollback coming amid the country's battle with the coronavirus pandemic.

"The crippling consequences of the Trump Administration's weakening of our nation's health and safety standards are unfolding before our eyes," said Becerra in a prepared statement. "Today the richest, most powerful nation in the world is telling its 300 million-plus people and its economy to shut down and stay put for fear of contamination. Rather than learn from its deadly regulatory backsliding, the Trump Administration instead weakens standards that protect our health and environment from polluting contaminants emitted by cars and trucks. That's unacceptable. And that's not where California or America will go."

In October 2018, Becerra led a coalition of 21 attorneys general and the cities of Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose challenging President Trump's rollback proposal. Separately, Becerra is leading another coalition of attorney generals and cities in challenging the Trump administration's attempt to undo California's greenhouse gas emission and zero emission vehicle standards.

The administration argues relaxing mileage standards will save automakers the cost of new emissions technology, and make vehicles cheaper for Americans to buy.

"We are delivering on President Trump's promise to correct the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. The administration plan "strikes the right regulatory balance that protects our environment and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry," he said.

But opponents say Americans will spend far more on fuel than they save on purchase costs, and the rules will reverse gains in lowered emissions.

"Gutting the clean car standards makes no sense. It will harm the air we breathe, stall progress in fighting the climate crisis and increase the cost of driving," said Natural Resources Defense Council President Gina McCarthy said in a statement. "We'll be seeing the Trump administration in court."

While the new standards will apply nationwide, California and other states that have adopted stricter mileage standards likely won't have their lawsuit against the administration resolved until next year at the earliest.

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