By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, said on Wednesday he will review the Obama administration's recent decision to lock in fuel efficiency rules.
On Friday, outgoing EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy finalized a determination that the landmark fuel efficiency rules instituted by President Barack Obama should be locked in through 2025, a bid to maintain a key part of his administration's climate legacy.
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"It merits review and I would review that," Pruitt said during a contentious Senate confirmation hearing, questioning the decision of McCarthy to finalize the determination just two weeks after the public comment period closed on Dec. 30.
Pruitt said separately he would not commit to allowing California to continue its own clean vehicle rules under a 2009 decision by the Obama administration.
Major U.S. and foreign automakers have appealed to Trump, who has been critical of Obama's climate 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.
As part of a 2012 regulation, EPA 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.
In 2011, Obama announced an agreement with major automakers to raise fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon. This, the administration said, would save motorists $1.7 trillion in fuel costs over the life of the vehicles, but cost the auto industry about $200 billion over 13 years.
The EPA said in July that because Americans were buying fewer cars and more SUVs and trucks, it estimated the fleet will average 50.8 mpg to 52.6 mpg in 2025. In November, the agency moved up the timetable for proposing that automakers can meet the 2025 standards.
McCarthy said her determination, a legally binding decision to maintain the fuel efficiency rules, rested on an extensive technical record. She said the rules are "feasible, practical and appropriate" and in "the best interests of the auto industry."
Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, on Wednesday said McCarthy's determination was an "extreme action" that "broke the deal" with automakers.
Legal experts have said it will be more difficult for the Trump administration and Congress to undo the determination than to unwind other regulatory actions issued by the Obama administration during its final months in office.
The 2025 determination is not a new regulation, so the EPA under Trump would likely have to go through an extensive process before withdrawing it and could face lawsuits from environmental groups if that step was taken.
Separately. California's new Democrat Senator Kamala Harris asked Pruitt whether he would commit to upholding the California waiver. Pruitt did not say outright that he would uphold the waiver, which allows California to pursue its own emission standards that are more stringent than the federal rules.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington. Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Alan Crosby)