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Federal fuel efficiency rules delayed

Rules to implement stringent new fuel standards for cars and light trucks are postponed until mid-November. But officials say there is no threat that the guidelines will be shelved indefinitely.

September 28, 2011|By Neela Banerjee, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The federal government plans to delay until mid-November new rules to implement a set of fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks, administration officials said Tuesday.

In late July, President Obama announced a deal that called for cars and light trucks to achieve a fleet-wide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, nearly double the 2011 model year average of 27.8 mpg. The new standard would be phased in beginning in 2017.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department were to issue the rules this week. But the administration and other participants in negotiations over the rules said their issuance would be delayed six weeks because of the volume of comments received and the technical work that remained.

In a statement, the EPA and the Transportation Department said: "We have worked closely with all key stakeholders including the car companies, the state of California and others as we move toward releasing the proposed rule. Given the historic nature of this joint rule between EPA and DOT, as well as the necessary coordination with California, it was recently determined that additional time was needed and we expect to issue" proposed rules by mid-November.

Obama's recent decision to shelve controversial rules to reduce smog prompted concerns that the administration might quietly mothball other regulatory efforts before the 2012 election to help defuse Republican arguments that environmental limits kill jobs.

Although aspects of the car standards were hammered out in tough negotiations, the fuel efficiency rules have widespread buy-in from the auto industry, environmentalists and the California Air Resources Board. As a result, participants sought to nip any emerging concerns that the delay might mean an indefinite postponement.

"We've been assured there's nothing to worry about," said Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "There's a lot of technical analysis to be done."

Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said his agency had known for weeks that the proposed rules would be delayed.

"Given the complexity of the work that goes into harmonizing the standards between the federal agencies, it is important it's done right," he said.

The proposed rules will be subject to public comment and could be revised, but are expected to become final at the end of January.

neela.banerjee@latimes.com

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