NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

An EPA Power Grab

March 26, 2012

The Obama administration's fuel economy standards, which will require an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, have come under a great deal of criticism for perceived costs.  Though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claim the move will produce net benefits ranging from $262 billion to $358 billion, analysts remain skeptical, says Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

There is, however, a component of the regulation that makes it far more dangerous than its potential costs, because the rule itself undermines the separation of powers and democratic accountability.  This is because the laws used to justify the regulation were never intended for that end, and any bill justifying these standards would be dead-on-arrival before Congress.

Nevertheless, the EPA maintains an intrusive hand in the dictation of fuel standards without seeking the approval of Congress.

  • The NHTSA is supposed to have singular authority over the fuel standards, pursuant to the Energy Policy Conservation Act.
  • The EPA, however, has justified its actions through the Clean Air Act, which was never intended to directly regulate fuel standards.
  • The agency has even gone so far as to expand its mandate to stationary sources of emissions, gaining the ability to establish greenhouse gas performance standards for coal power plants and oil refineries.

The EPA is quick to emphasize that automakers remain amenable to the standards, often lobbying against congressional provisions that would remove the EPA's teeth.  However, the auto industry does so through coercion, fearful of a complicated patchwork of regulations that the EPA might create if the fuel standards are discontinued.

Furthermore, the EPA's actions clearly flout the will of Congress.

  • In the last Congress, after almost two decades of global warming advocacy, Congress declined to give EPA explicit authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
  • The notion that Congress gave EPA authority over fuel standards when the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, years before global warming emerged as a public concern, defies chronology.
  • It is widely accepted that a legislative proposal boosting average fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon would not pass in the 112th Congress.

Source: Marlo Lewis, "An EPA Power Grab," National Review, March 15, 2012.

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