RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Donald Trump heads to Michigan today. He's meeting with auto executives at the American Center for Mobility outside Detroit, which is the future site of a massive testing facility for self-driving cars. The president is expected to announce plans to start reversing some of the tough emissions and fuel economy rules put into place by the Obama administration. NPR's business correspondent Sonari Glinton covers the auto industry, and he joins us now.
Good morning, Sonari.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: What rules are we talking about here?
GLINTON: Well, (laughter) it's very complicated. But it's essentially corporate average fuel economy rules. We know these as CAFE rules. And they're essentially three big agencies, for all practical purposes, that govern what goes into the fuel tank and comes out of the fuel pipe - the EPA, the Department of Transportation and essentially the state of California.
And these agencies got together in the beginning of the Obama administration, and they made the car companies agree to new, tough rules, these CAFE and emissions rules, which the car companies agreed to only, though, if they could get a review halfway through to see if they were working. The EPA essentially finalized these regulations as they were walking out the door during the Obama administration. And President Trump wants to put the review back in place so there's kind of a reset.
MARTIN: What was the intention? What was the Obama administration trying to accomplish with those rules?
GLINTON: Well, it was essentially about climate change and reducing the greenhouse emissions that were coming out of cars as well as reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
MARTIN: So President Trump wants to scale those back. Can he do that? How much leeway does the president have to change regulations like this?
GLINTON: Well, to boil it down - or to really oversimplify it - there is a question in here about whether these regulations were final-final. But the White House wants to review them in 2018, and so do the automakers. And essentially, there's going to be a battle every inch of the way. Many environmental groups are just waiting to file suit. But to be clear, this is just whether to review a regulation. And we're not necessarily at the point of changing fuel standards quite yet.
MARTIN: So if we get to that point, what is the argument for rolling these standards back? What's the White House line?
GLINTON: Well, the White House line is essentially jobs. An auto industry trade group put out a study that said that these tough rules were hurting the auto industry and hurting jobs and that these rules, essentially, sort of mandate electric cars and many more on the road than we have currently. But right now, we are not buying electric cars. Only about 3.5 percent of cars sold are alternative fuels. People are just buying bigger cars, and gas is cheap.
But if you look on the other side, the car companies are doing really well. In the last two years, they've had record sales and record profits. And, you know, individuals still do want the more fuel efficient version of a vehicle. They not necessarily going to go from a big pickup truck to a little bitty car.
MARTIN: NPR's Sonari Glinton - he covers the auto industry for us.
Thanks so much, Sonari.
GLINTON: Always a pleasure.
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