Trump pumps brakes on Obama-era fuel efficiency standards

President Trump announced Wednesday that his administration would re-examine Obama-era fuel efficiency rules for cars and trucks, during a visit to the heart of the U.S. auto industry.

After meeting with auto CEOs and union leaders, Trump announced his plan at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Mich., outside Detroit. He told the crowd his administration will “help the companies” that in turn “are going to help you.”

“There is no more beautiful sight than an American-made car,” Trump said. “We want to be the car capital of the world again.”

Trump announced he's putting a midterm review of fuel efficiency standards back on track, giving officials another year to study the issue before setting new standards in 2018.

CAFE emissions targets were at the heart of former President Barack Obama’s multi-year strategy to fight climate change. Trump’s willingness to hit the brakes underscores his administration’s aim to roll back environmental rules in order to boost economic growth.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., ripped the announcement as "one of the first steps in an all-out assault by the Trump administration to dismantle important environmental protection."

Under Obama, the EPA had pushed a rule for cars and light trucks requiring a fleet-wide average of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Back in 2012, the Obama administration set fuel-economy regulations for model years 2017-2025. The administration agreed to complete a midterm evaluation in 2018. But a week before Obama left office, then-EPA head Gina McCarthy decided to keep the stringent requirements it had set in place for model years 2022-2025.

While the Trump administration has not flat-out said it wants to weaken the standards, the president campaigned on the promise of eliminating “job-killing” regulations.

“These standards are costly for automakers and the American people,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a written statement. “We will work with our partners at DOT to take a fresh look at determine if this approach is realistic. This thorough review will help ensure that this national program is good for consumers and good for the environment.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also applauded the decision, calling the move “a win for the American economy.”

The news isn’t great for environmentalists who say the rules are working and claim they will save drivers thousands of dollars in fuel costs down the road and shouldn’t be changed.

Automakers argue that the gas-mileage targets make it too expensive for the industry to produce more high-mileage cars given the consumer preference to purchase larger vehicles that are less fuel-efficient.

In 2016, car sales slipped month after month as low gas prices made buying larger vehicles more attractive.

A group of 12 manufacturers including GM and Ford has pressed the White House to roll back the Obama fuel standard targets. The new rules “threaten to depress an industry that can ill afford spiraling regulatory costs,” Mitch Bainwol, chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, wrote in a Feb. 27 letter to Pruitt.

Bainwol slammed the decision and reasoned it was “riddled with indefensible assumptions, inadequate analysis and a failure to engage with contrary evidence.”

Bainwol’s letter to Pruitt follows a separate letter to Trump from the heads of GM, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, VW, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan asking him to reverse the rules.

Trump also told the crowd of auto workers they would be respected.

"Soon, now, already happened," he said.

After leaving Detroit, Trump was heading to Nashville to lay a wreath at former President Andrew Jackson’s tomb, before holding a campaign-style rally in the city.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.