Trump’s EPA Caught Trying to Hide Criticism of Its Proposed Clean Cars Rollback

Statement of Amit Narang, Regulatory Policy Advocate, Public Citizen

Note: According to U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), political officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are trying to conceal public comments that were critical of the proposed clean car standards rollback. Instead of sending these comments to the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) – as part of the standard interagency review process that would end with their public release once the rule is finalized – hard copies of these comments were shared only with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Once again, OIRA is abusing its authority and undermining the integrity of its review process by allowing political appointees at the DOT and the EPA to hide criticism of the clean car standards rollback made by the EPA’s career experts. The intent of this deception is clear: The Trump administration does not want the media and the public to see just how bad the rollback’s legal and policy flaws are in the eyes of the EPA’s experts. The clean car standards, also known as fuel economy and greenhouse gas rules, are one of the most effective means we have of combating the climate crisis.

When the clean cars rollback was proposed in 2018, OIRA review documents revealed that career experts at the EPA disagreed with the DOT’s flawed analysis so strongly that they refused to allow the EPA’s logo to be put on it. Now, the administration wants to make sure that what the EPA experts are saying to the DOT about the final version of the rollback never sees the light of day.

OIRA must take corrective action to include the hard copies of the EPA’s comments in the rulemaking docket. Otherwise, both agencies risk violating section 307(d) of the Clean Air Act, which requires the EPA to disclose interagency comments, and Executive Order 12866, which requires changes made to rules to be reviewed by OIRA.

In addition, Congress needs to establish basic and long-overdue transparency requirements at OIRA. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) anti-corruption legislation would bring much needed sunlight to the black box that OIRA has become – and would stop the agency from gaming its own review process.