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Maybe that rollback of Obama-era fuel economy standards promised by the Trump administration won’t be happening this spring after all.

Maybe it won’t happen ever.

Multiple sources tell The New York Times that the draft of the revised rules submitted last month is riddled with errors, lacks an in-depth technical discussion to justify the changes and contains more than 100 sections whose text haven’t been filled in at all.

Worse, the draft has foundered over White House staff analyses that indicate the benefits to consumers of the proposed changes—cheaper cars—would be more than offset by higher fuel costs to operate them, according to the Times.

Legal pundits tell the newspaper that any change to the current standards will face difficult legal challenges and could be tossed out unless they can be rigorously defended.

Long Time Coming

President Donald Trump has been pushing for the regulatory rollback since he took office three years ago.

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The scheme would scrap Obama-era limits on carbon dioxide emissions that boost corporate average fuel economy target to about 54 mpg by the 2026 model year. The plan submitted last month to the White House would reduce that target to about 40 mpg, the Times says.

The draft was compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, which governs pollution standards (including carbon dioxide), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets fuel economy targets.

The two agencies are involved because the level of CO2 emissions by a piston-powered vehicle is directly related to how much fuel it burns. The Obama administration implemented its tough standards in 2012 and rushed through a midterm review that reaffirmed their viability just weeks before the Trump administration began.

Skeptics have been challenging the rationale for reversing those rules for years. Last autumn EPA’s science advisory board concluded the rollback is based on deeply flawed assumptions and suggested society would be better off by sticking with the Obama standards.

What’s Next?

The Trump administration isn’t about to drop this. It has justified the rollback in part on the cost to the auto industry of meeting the tougher standards.

The argument goes like this: The high cost of meeting the Obama regulations will make car prices soar, thereby hurting sales. A sales slump will slow the pace at which older vehicles are replaced by safer and more efficient new cars. So, easing the standards will benefit society, even though its means less fuel-efficient vehicles.

Maybe so, but law experts tell the Times that it will take a pile of credible charts and graphs to prove to federal courts that the rollback is not an “arbitrary and capricious policy.”

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