When the EPA and NHTSA unveiled the proposal for revised fuel economy standards, there was a key part that brought up a lot of debate: The claim that the new regulations would reduce the number of fatalities and crashes. As we pointed out in our story, there were a number of holes in that argument. It seems we were not the only ones questioning this.
Yesterday, the review of the proposal done by the White House's Information and Regulatory Affairs was made public. In it are hundred of pages of correspondence, analysis, and drafts. Bloomberg went through the documents and found that EPA officials were questioning the rationale put forth by NHTSA on reducing crashes.
The “proposed standards are detrimental to safety, rather than beneficial,” wrote EPA staff in a memo dated June 18th.
Their basis for this was analysis done by the agency after making a number of corrections to a Transportation Department model. It showed that freezing fuel economy standards "would lead to an increase in traffic fatalities and boost the overall fatality rate."
The EPA questioned the validity of the Obama administration standards “coincided with an increase in highway fatalities” claim.
“What data supports the implication that the standards to date have led to fatality increases?” said the EPA in feedback on June 29th.
Also, the EPA questioned NHTSA's model that overestimates the number of old and unsafe vehicles on the road if the new regulations go into effect.
In the comments, the EPA said NHTSA’s model over-estimated the number of older, less-safe cars that would remain on the road if drivers didn’t buy new cars due to higher prices caused by the Obama-era standards, effectively inflating projected traffic deaths.
In July, NHTSA fired back, countering that EPA’s corrections assumed the size of U.S. vehicle fleet and the number of miles driven would remain constant, rather than changing because of the fuel economy standards -- an outcome the agency said “would be much more reasonable to expect.”
How the EPA and NHTSA came to an agreement is unclear at the moment. What it does reveal is that the dispute between the two agencies could affect plans to try and create a comprise that would appease both automakers and California regulators.
“These emails are but a fraction of the robust dialogue that occurred during interagency deliberations for the proposed rule. EPA is currently soliciting comments on eight different alternative standards and we look forward to reviewing any new data and information,” said EPA spokesman John Konkus.
Irene Gutierrez, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council sees it a bit differently.
"...that even the EPA had deep reservations about the bogus safety arguments being pushed by the Department of Transportation. We know that automakers can make cars both more fuel efficient and safer; it’s heartening to find out EPA’s technical experts agree.”