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Editorial: Government should continue to press automakers to improve fuel efficiency

Americans who see the benefits of clean air and reduced reliance on foreign oil deserve to be more than a little upset that the auto industry may wind up getting a pass on the requirement for developing extremely fuel-efficient vehicles by 2025.

With sales of lower-mileage light trucks and SUVs booming, the auto industry sees the tougher rules as a threat to profits.

Automakers asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to scrap a Jan. 13 decision that requires new cars to average a “real-world figure,” as the New York Times reported, of 36 miles per gallon. The auto industry is giddy over the prospect of not having to adhere to good-faith promises it made in 2011.

But what’s good for General Motors (and others) is not necessarily good for America. Burning more gasoline means more emissions pouring into the atmosphere. Tougher emissions and fuel economy rules over the years have done much to clean up our air. This is no time for major backsliding.

And less gasoline burned reduces the need for importing oil from unstable OPEC countries. Plus, better mileage will save drivers thousands of dollars over the life of a vehicle.

Meeting the fuel standards will require a greater reliance on hybrid and electric vehicles. That could be good news for Western New York, where Tesla’s solar panel factory in South Buffalo is about to open and the company is getting ready to launch its new all-electric car.

Automakers say they would have to spend $200 billion between 2012 and 2025 to comply with the tailpipe emissions rules. But their opposition is in direct conflict with earlier achievements in producing higher-mileage vehicles.

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, told Bloomberg the fact that automakers have complied with the rule in each year since the current tougher standards took effect despite booming truck sales “underscores how automakers have compliance flexibility.”

It may be that automakers can make a case for adjusting the mileage targets. However, the Trump administration should not allow automakers a complete pass on mileage requirements it previously agreed to, and that have such obvious benefits.

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