Fossil Fuel Lobby Kicks off Disinformation Campaign Against EPA Auto Emissions Rule

The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a major oil refining group, is once again behind a push to keep cars running on oil.
Adam_M._Lowenstein
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Dark smoggy rear view of four rows of cars and red tail lights sitting in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. Credit: joiseyshowaa (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Fossil fuel interest groups have mobilized quickly to oppose a new rule issued by the Biden administration designed to speed up America’s transition to hybrid and electric vehicles.

The rule, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized on March 20, limits emissions from tailpipes on new cars, starting in 2027.

Well before the EPA finalized the new standard, powerful corporate lobbies like the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) had already promised to spend at least a million dollars campaigning against the rule by falsely portraying it as a “ban” on new cars. The group’s hyperbolic ads warn viewers that their freedoms and choices “will soon be taking a back seat to big government.”

The EPA predicts that the change would result in around two-thirds of new vehicle sales being hybrid or electric by 2032 — up from around eight percent today.

Beyond stopping more than 7 billion tons of carbon pollution, the agency predicts that the rule could save drivers more than $60 billion in fuel and maintenance costs, according to an EPA fact sheet that accompanied the final rule. The pollution reduction benefits would particularly benefit Black and brown communities because they are disproportionately likely to suffer from air pollution.

“These strongest-ever pollution standards for cars solidify America’s leadership in building a clean transportation future and creating good-paying American jobs,” EPA administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement.

Compared to the EPA’s initial proposal, the final rule was scaled back to give car manufacturers more time to comply, but the New York Times still described the new standard as “one of the most significant climate regulations in the nation’s history.”

Close-up of Kia electric car charger with neon yellow cable plugged into a neon blue car.
A Kia electric car charging. Credit: Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

The heads of AFPM and the American Petroleum Institute (API) — the leading trade group for the oil and gas industry — declared in a joint statement that the rule “will unequivocally eliminate most new gas cars and traditional hybrids from the U.S. market in less than a decade.”

In February, AFPM had already begun portraying the rule as a “car ban” and announced a “seven-figure issue campaign” featuring TV and digital ads, as well as billboards and text messages. Some of the efforts target electoral swing states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. The group also launched a website that warns readers, in all caps, to “keep the government’s hands off our cars!”

Despite the industry’s attempt to misleadingly brand the new standard, “this is not a ban of internal combustion engines,” Margaret Wooldridge, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, said in a statement.

Last year, AFPM spent nearly $7 million lobbying the federal government — more than any year in its history — according to OpenSecrets.

The top two bills the group reported lobbying for are designed to prevent the EPA from finalizing or enforcing vehicle emissions standards. Both bills passed the House last year. (Chevron, API, Koch Industries, and Marathon Petroleum are among the other industry groups and companies that lobbied for these bills last year.)

In addition to lobbying Congress and running million-dollar public influence campaigns, corporate trade groups have increasingly used lawsuits and the threat of costly, time-consuming litigation to stop or delay climate-related regulations.

Earlier this month, for instance, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finalized a long-delayed rule that requires public companies to disclose some of their emissions and climate risks that could impact their businesses. While the published rule was substantially weaker than what the SEC originally proposed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was among a handful of conservative interest groups that immediately challenged the measure in court.

Another recent EPA rule targeting methane emissions also met with opposition from Republican officials and oil and gas interests, according to Politico.

And on March 6, barely a month after the EPA finalized a separate rule limiting soot pollution, API, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Chamber were among eight trade groups that sued the agency in the D.C. Circuit court.

‘Prepared to challenge it in court’

In a blog post, AFPM claims that the EPA “does not have authority to overhaul the U.S. economy or transportation system or compel — directly or otherwise — the use of EVs to address vehicle emissions.”

Similar objections to the authority of federal agencies to issue regulations have found a receptive audience among the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.

If the EPA doesn’t undo the tailpipe emissions rule, “our organizations are certainly prepared to challenge it in court,” the AFPM and API CEOs said in the joint statement that followed the announcement.

In attacking the rule, corporate interest groups like AFPM are following a well-trod path of fighting new climate regulations on every playing field they can find.

During the Trump administration, AFPM helped lead a successful effort to weaken previous EPA fuel efficiency standards. The group helped marshal Republican governors to advocate for the rollback, while also supporting Energy4US, a front group that encouraged Americans to flood the EPA with public comments, as DeSmog previously reported.

“One of the big advantages that oil industry lobbyists like AFPM have is money, and AFPM certainly isn’t afraid to use it,” Jesse Coleman, a senior researcher at the investigative outlet Documented, told DeSmog in an email.

“Million dollar ad campaigns are an unfortunately common way for groups like AFPM to pressure legislators and regulators by raising the political temperature on an issue. Litigation slows things further, leading to years of delays in implementation.”

Adam_M._Lowenstein
Adam M. Lowenstein is a freelance journalist and writer covering the climate crisis, capitalism, and corporate power.

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