Auto group tries to block EPA from finalizing vehicle rules

By David Shepardson WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A major auto trade group is making a last-ditch effort to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from finalizing tough fuel economy standards through the 2025 model year. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp, Ford Motor Co, Volkswagen AG and Daimler AG, late Monday urged congressional negotiators to include language in a short-term budget resolution that would bar the Obama administration from finalizing the rules before it leaves office next month. "EPA's sudden and controversial move to propose auto regulations eight months early - even after Congress warned agencies about taking such steps while political appointees were packing their bags - calls out for congressional action to pause this rulemaking until a thoughtful policy review can occur," said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the group. An EPA spokesman declined to comment on Monday. Automakers face an uphill battle getting the language attached to the funding bill, which could be made public as early as Tuesday. Even if Congress approves the rider, President Barack Obama would get to decide whether to sign or veto any funding bill. Automakers had appealed to President-elect Donald Trump last month, who has been critical of Obama's climate change policies, to review the rules requiring them to nearly double fleet-wide fuel efficiency by 2025, saying they impose significant costs and are out of step with consumer preferences. The EPA under law had to decide by April 2018 whether to modify the 2022-2025 model year vehicle emission rules requiring average fleet-wide efficiency of more than 50 miles per gallon. Instead, the agency said last week it will end the public comment period by Dec. 30, and could move to lock in the rules after then and before the Obama administration leaves office on Jan. 20. If finalized, the Trump administration could seek to overturn the decision, but environmental groups would likely sue. Several environmental groups last week praised the EPA action. The agency said last week it concluded after a lengthy review that automakers can meet the 2025 standards. Janet McCabe, EPA acting assistant administrator, told reporters last week the technical record could "arguably support strengthening the 2022 through 2025 standards," but the EPA believes it "is not the time to introduce uncertainty by changing the standard." (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)