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Automakers believe EPA boss Pruitt went too far with CAFE slash

Now with a massive lawsuit pending against the EPA, automakers say that they only wanted a more gradual ramp to the original Obama-era CAFE requirements for 2025.

Scott Pruitt, Chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Testifies Before The Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26: Scott Pruitt, Chief of the Environmental Protection Agency - EPA - testifies before the Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment at the Rayburn House Office Building on Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Washington, DC. The hearing is entitled The Fiscal Year 2019 Environmental Protection Agency Budget. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Washington Post

Do you remember that scene in 1991's Point Break where Patrick Swayze's character Bohdi is explaining to a fresh-faced Keanu Reeves' Johnny Utah, that his associate Rosie -- played by Lee Tergesen -- was a mechanism? Once set on a path, Rosie couldn't be shut off, and he was going to kill Lori Petty's character, Tyler, if he didn't receive a phone call. 

It turns out that the same also applies to EPA boss Scott Pruitt, the American auto industry and the corporate average fuel economy guidelines for 2025 that were set by the Obama administration. (Bear with me here.)

Automakers expressed concern in 2011 over the fuel economy targets set by the Obama administration, believing that meeting them may be expensive and difficult. These same automakers went to President Donald Trump and Pruitt asking if anything could be done to ease the requirements -- thus setting Pruitt, the mechanism, in motion.

Now, apparently when the manufacturers asked the EPA to look at adjusting the guidelines, what they meant, Automotive News reported on Monday, was that they wanted the target of 46.8 miles per gallon, average, to remain in place for 2025 but they wanted the ramp up to that target to be more gradual and for the EPA to offer a bit more flexibility when it came to compliance. That's not what they got.

"Look Johnny, we just wanted a more gradual ramp-up and more flexibility in compliance but Scotty, man, he's like a mechanism. Once you set him in motion, he can't be stopped."

20th Century Fox/Largo Entertainment

Pruitt gutted the guidelines and now 17 states including California (now the world's fifth-largest economy, sorry-not-sorry UK) are suing the EPA to reinstate the targets and protect the California waiver, as implemented by the Clean Air Act. The automakers are mortified because this litigation and potential legislative nightmare could prove extremely expensive for them when it comes to developing vehicles to meet a variety of emissions and CAFE requirements.

Things start to get really interesting when you consider that the California Air Resources Board controls vehicle emissions guidelines for the state thanks to the California waiver and has no authority over fuel economy standards. That honor falls to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) thanks to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and NHTSA has, according to some legal experts, no authority to override the California emissions waiver.

Legally speaking, Pruitt may be set for a righteous wipeout, and it seems unlikely at this point that he'll have the support of industry to break his fall.