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Dept. of Transportation sued for records related to fuel standards changes

The Environmental Defense Fund has sued the U.S. government because it has not responded to public records requests related to its attempts to lower fuel standards.

By Renzo Pipoli
Dept. of Transportation sued for records related to fuel standards changes
The EDF on Wednesday sued the U.S. Department of Transportation over failure to release public documents it requested to learn who and what is behind efforts to reverse Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- The Environmental Defense Fund has sued the U.S. Department of Transportation over failure to release public records requested to know what and who are behind attempts to lower fuel standards.

"EDF is going to court to enforce the American people's right to know what's driving the Trump administration's attacks on our nation's clean car and freight truck standards," EDF attorney Ben Levitan said on Wednesday.

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"A recent New York Times investigation of the behind-the-scenes role of the oil industry in pushing the Clean Cars rollback underscores the need to bring greater transparency to the Department of Transportation's decision-making," the organization said in a press release.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that a campaign to reverse the standards has been mounted by the oil industry under the argument that "the United States is so awash in oil it no longer needs to worry about energy conservation."

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The report pointed to official correspondence from "more than a dozen lawmakers" to regulators pushing points from the industry's argument against higher standards, with President Donald Trump's administration also proposing rules that follow industry talking points.

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The Trump administration has been at work since earlier this year on the plan to do away with requirements that seek to double fuel economy of vehicles by 2025, which go back to former President Barack Obama's administration. That would also lead to greater emissions.

According to estimates by Marathon Petroleum CEO Gary Heminger, shared during an early December telephone call with investors, a reverse of the stricter fuel regulation would lead to an extra 400,000 barrels of gasoline sold per day, the New York Times reported.

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"So we have a lot of work to do to keep this momentum going," Heminger said during the call.

Marathon in October became the biggest fuel refiner in the United States, with sales of 16 billion gallons of fuel annually, the report added.

Marathon has denied working on rollbacks with Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and also said it was not giving industry talking points to legislators, the New York Times said.

In addition to the New York Times, other media organizations have linked the oil industry to advocating for lower standards.

Energy4US which has social media accounts where it runs ads, along with requests to send letters to regulators advocating a reversal of stricter fuel regulations, has also been linked to the oil industry by Propublica.

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Energy4us runs ads on Facebook advocating the reversal of the stricter regulations with headlines like "our president's car freedom agenda" and "plan for safer, cheaper cars that WE get to choose," Propublica said on Nov. 1.

The EDF is an organization involving 700 members of stuff that work to protect the environment. It traces its roots to the 1960s, when it was organized to fight the use of the pesticide DDT, which it found threatened animal and human health.

EDF's efforts against the Trump administration for more transparency are not new.

"This is the eighth time EDF has had to sue the Trump administration for failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act," it said.

The request aims to obtain correspondence between DOT officials and auto industry or oil companies. This will also help other attempts to try to get the current DOT administration to make their meeting and other schedules public, the organization said.

"The third request seeks schedules and correspondence of certain DOT staff involved in the heavy-duty trailers provisions of the clean freight truck standards," it added.

According to the Energy Information Administration, nearly 143 billion gallons of gasoline were consumed in the U.S. in all of 2017, or about 392 million gallons daily.

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The average cost per gallon in service stations across the United States as of mid-December was $2.37 per gallon, according to the AAA driver organization.

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