The now-idled Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency in August jointly proposed new fuel economy standards that recommended capping requirements for new cars at 37 mile-per-gallon from 2020 through 2026, instead of rising to a roughly 47 mpg fleet average under rules enacted by the Obama administration.
While the federal funding fight hasn't yet delayed work to finalize that rule, doing so by the administration's goal of March or April will become will become more difficult if the shutdown drags on into late January, a person familiar with the matter said.
"You can safely say that it will be at least a one-for-one delay in terms of how long the shutdown lasts," said Lynn Ross, a professor at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy. "Let's say it lasts a month. It'll be at least a month's delay for that regulatory action to happen, but it'll probably be longer because there's a whole lot of inefficiency that's built into these shutdowns."
The EPA, meanwhile, is working on regulatory overhauls that are priorities for the oil industry -- and in keeping with Trump's pledge to remove rules he says are throttling economic development. The measures include a proposal to ease limits on methane leaks from wells, an effort that could be delayed as the shutdown drags on.
"A longer shutdown certainly isn't good for this industry," said Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute. "We want to make sure the efforts to put in place smarter regulations continue."
Some ethanol producers are growing concerned the shutdown could make it impossible for the EPA to meet deadlines for allowing summertime sales of gasoline blended with as much as 15 percent ethanol, a change Trump promised last year. The agency aimed to propose unleashing so-called E15 gasoline in February, followed by final action in May -- just four weeks before those summertime fueling restrictions become binding.
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The agency offered some assurance this week, with spokesman Michael Abboud insisting "the ongoing partial shutdown will not impede EPA's ability to keep to our deadline."
The EPA will complete the regulatory shift "before this summer's driving season," as it "is a priority for both President Trump and acting administrator Wheeler," Abboud said.
But it could be tough. Just four workers in the EPA air office responsible for biofuel regulations and the auto emission standards are exempted from the shutdown, out of 1,083 total. And no employees are exempted in the office of the general counsel, where staff attorneys review regulations.
"EPA gave itself very little wiggle room to start out with," Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association said earlier Tuesday. "So this government shutdown is taking a tight timeline and making it even tighter, and honestly, with each passing day as this shutdown continues, we're growing more anxious and concerned about EPA's ability to get this done in time for the summer driving season."