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Senate Dems push to maintain fuel economy standards in face of EPA reduction plans

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    Gas prices are at a three-year high. The average retail price for regular gas in Greene County is $3.012 per gallon and the average retail price in Columbia County is $2.991, according to AAA data.
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    Al Drago/The New York Times Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks to reporters at the White House on June 2, 2017. Pruitt announced in April that the EPA will roll back fuel economy standards set under President Barack Obama that required new cars get 50 miles per gallon by 2025.
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    C-GM File Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to maintain current fuel economy standards for smaller vehicles, arguing that rolling back the standards would cause gas prices to increase more in the long-term.
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June 13, 2018 11:31 pm

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, emerged on opposite sides of a debate over proposed revisions to federal fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles and the reasons behind the recent surge in gasoline prices Wednesday.

Senate Democrats are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to reduce federal fuel efficiency standards for cars, arguing that it will cause gas prices to skyrocket in the long-term.

In 2012 the federal government set a fuel efficiency standard goal requiring new cars to get 50 miles per gallon by 2025. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced in April he plans to revise the 2012 standards goal after the agency released its Midterm Evaluation for the greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025.

The Obama administration, based on the 2012 regulations that require an analysis of standards in 2018, evaluated the fuel economy standards in 2017 before the White House transitioned to the new administration. Pruitt’s EPA re-evaluated the standards this year.

“The Obama administration’s determination was wrong,” Pruitt said in April. “Obama’s EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”

Schumer, at a press conference Wednesday, argued the agency’s plans to roll back the fuel-efficiency standards will cause gas prices, at their highest levels in three years, to increase long-term.

Schumer cited up-to-date statistics from the American Automobile Association showing how gas prices jumped from last year.

Gas prices averaged $2.382 per gallon at this time last year in the Capital Region. In June 2018 the average is $2.977 per gallon, a 59-cent increase, according to AAA data.

The average retail price for regular unleaded gasoline in Greene County is $3.012 per gallon and the average retail price in Columbia County is $2.991, according to AAA data.

Andi State, of Hudson, drives a 2007 Kia Rio, and said if she could, she would just ride a bicycle to the places she needs to go.

“I’m all for whatever is best for the environment and that means a cleaner usage of the planet,” State said. “We need to get away from oil and gas and move towards electric cars.”

Dee Boutin, of Cairo, called the EPA’s plans a regressive policy and a bad idea.

“We are going back in time,” Boutin said. “That is a bad idea for the future of the planet and just when we started getting a handle on it.”

Mark Joselin’s newer model Mustang gets 18 miles to the gallon, he said.

“I think the way the fuel economy standards are right now is all right,” said Joselin, of Hudson. “But gas prices are a little bit ridiculous right now.”

Schumer argued that if cars get more miles per gallon, it will decrease the demand for gas over time and reduce the price of gas long-term.

“Over the next decade every year the price will go up and the future price will go up, which affects the current prices for gas,” Schumer said. “A car that gets 50 miles per gallon could save the owner $6,000 over the lifespan of the car.”

Schumer said he will send a letter to Pruitt on behalf of Senate Democrats asking him not to reduce the fuel-economy standards.

“Pruitt is friends with big oil companies,” Schumer said. “But this proposal hurts car company competitiveness and hurts consumers. Consumers want more efficient cars.”

Faso disagreed with Schumer, saying the state’s senior senator conflated two separate issues to make a political point.

Faso argued that gas prices are high because it is summer, which is when the EPA requires refineries to make fuel more environmentally friendly, causing prices to increase, and because the global price of oil increased.

“There is an increased demand for gas and the economy, especially in the U.S., is growing at a rapid rate,” Faso said. “This has nothing to do with the EPA’s plans.”

To decrease gas prices immediately, Schumer called for President Donald Trump to negotiate with Russia and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to sell more oil in the global market.

“We do not get oil from Russia, but it is a global price, so if Russia sells more oil, the price will go down,” Schumer said. “The president needs to jawbone Russia and Saudi Arabia to get prices lowered.”

Trump tweeted Wednesday that oil prices are too high.

Faso supports higher fuel-economy standards, but the Kinderhook congressman refused to say the 50 mph standard should be changed or remain in place.

“The Obama administration released its evaluation on its way out of the door and it was based on politics, not necessarily science,” Faso said. “If the technology is not there to achieve that standard, what has been accomplished?”