The EPA’s plan to retest a significant number of gasoline and diesel-engined U.S. market vehicles in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal is facing a serious problem: funding. The Trump administration plans to eliminate almost all federal funding — some $48 million — from the EPA’s Federal Vehicle and Fuels Standards and Certification program that determines new car fuel-economy ratings. Instead, the budget proposes to draw fees from manufacturers to fund EPA testing, a process that should take several years to put into place via EPA negotiations with manufacturers, likely disrupting the schedule of EPA certification for vehicles.
The EPA initially announced its plans to test vehicles in laboratory and real-world conditions after a number of vehicles from Volkswagen Automotive Group brands were found to use emissions-cheating software that could detect when vehicles were being tested for emissions and reduce their output for those periods of time. The EPA failed to detect the cheating efforts for several years until a study discovered discrepancies between the diesel vehicles’ laboratory emissions output and real-world driving output. After revealing that VW had used sophisticated software to bypass emissions tests, the EPA announced efforts to retest many U.S.-market vehicles independently.
The administration’s proposed budget that will reduce the EPA’s total budget by more than 30 percent is expected to be detailed in May 2017. Overall, the EPA appears to face the biggest planned cuts of any federal agency under the new administration, with the total number of agency positions projected to be cut topping 3,000, almost a fifth of the workforce. In the Federal Vehicle and Fuels Standards and Certification program, more than half of the 300 full-time positions are believed to be cut.
Aside from the goal of retesting current vehicles to detect possible emissions cheating, the cuts to the program and the agency could greatly impair the issuing of fuel-economy ratings and permits for new vehicles.
“Consistent with the President’s America First Energy Plan, the budget reorients the EPA’s air program to protect the air we breathe without unduly burdening the American economy,” an introduction to the budget summary states.
Earlier this year, the administration indicated it will revisit a last-minute rule-making action by the EPA to cement fuel-economy standards for 2025 that would have seen a fleetwide fuel economy average of just over 50 mpg, made in the last days of the Obama administration in January. The last-minute rule-making push was seen as a firewall against future action: The Trump administration was expected to cave to industry demands to relax fuel-efficiency standards in response to the rise in popularity of SUVs during the latter half of the decade.