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Scott Pruitt wants to roll back the EPA’s requirements for clean vehicles. It’s going to be a fight.

Ford F-150 Pickup truck

The Ford F-150 gets just 26 mpg highway, which leaves it a long way to go toward the 2025 goal.

Ford

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently announced his intention to repeal Obama-era standards on vehicle emissions. While we don't have specific details about the new requirements, we do know they would be less strict—or ambitious—than the current standards set to start with the 2022-2025 model year. This could mean more greenhouse gas emissions, less fuel-efficient vehicles, and the possibility of cheaper automobiles. It all depends on who you ask.

But it's likely that the actions of the Trump-era EPA here won't be the final say in this emissions-regulating saga, which draws heavy influence from the political powers in charge at a given moment. Instead, it's going to set up an epic lawsuit with Pruitt and the EPA on one side, and California and a host of other states — all of which are blue and represent around a third of the country’s new car market according to Bloomberg — on the other. And that's where the real showdown will take place.

How we got here

After President Trump's surprise electoral victory in November 2016, the Obama-era EPA pushed through a "midterm evaluation" (MTE) of vehicle emissions regulations originally proposed in 2012. The MTE was scheduled for completion in April, 2018 and was meant to examine whether the proposed 2022-2025 standards were fair. The Obama EPA finalized its evaluation more than a year early, publishing its decision on January 17, 2017—three days before the Trump administration took over. Obama's EPA found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the 2022-2025 regulations were just fine, and could remain in place.

The impending requirements call for the fleetwide average fuel economy of cars and trucks to rise to 51.4 miles per gallon by 2025, up from 35.5 mpg in 2016. Similarly, tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions will fall 31 percent to 173 grams per mile. It's the averages that matter — car companies that sell lots of efficient hybrids and electric cars will be able to offset fuel-hungry pickup trucks to meet goals. Companies that don't achieve the standards are able to purchase credits from companies that overachieve — making a useful revenue stream for EV-only companies like Tesla (and this is happening already).

The downside here is that whenever you increase capability — horsepower, towing capacity, or fuel efficiency — things get more expensive, and the strict regulations could force companies to change their product mix to something less profitable (or less desired by consumers).

Companies like GM and Ford make a ton of money off heavy, fuel-inefficient pickup trucks. The top-three best-selling vehicles in the US last year were the Ford F-series (900,000), Chevy Silverado (600,000), and Ram Pickup (~500,000) — and the segment continues to grow. Everything else takes a distant second and showcases the difficulties with trying to regulate fleetwide emissions standards. For reference, the stock model 2018 Ford F-150 has a fuel efficiency of around 26 mpg—roughly half of the 51.4 number the fleet will need to average. Higher fuel economy standards could put significant pressure on those sales by forcing carmakers to sell more small, fuel-efficient cars that consumers are less interested in.

Ford F-150 Pickup truck

Popular pickup

The Ford F-150 gets just 26 mpg highway, which leaves it a long way to go toward the 2025 goal.

Ford

Big oil change

This week, when the midterm evaluation was originally supposed to take place — and perhaps also unsurprisingly — the Trump EPA thought differently.

"The Obama Administration's determination was wrong," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in a statement. "Obama’s EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high."

Politics plays a big role in many things at the EPA, and that's perhaps even more true with former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (who is a close ally of the fossil fuel industry and repeatedly sued the EPA as Oklahoma AG) at the helm. The Trump administration has been rolling back regulations all over the place, environmental and otherwise, including on so-called clean coal, financial institutions, and, of course, net neutrality.

This is just the latest volley in what they consider cutting red tape. Revising proposed regulations on how much greenhouse gases autos can emit into the atmosphere is par for the course — but what's really interesting is what happens next.

"There's going to be incredible litigation over this," says Emil Frankel, senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation and a former Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy under President George W. Bush. And that litigation is where Pruitt's real fight is.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is charged with setting national standards for vehicle tailpipe emissions of certain pollutants. But the EPA also has the authority to grant a waiver to the state of California, allowing that state (as well as the 13 states and Washington DC, which follow its requirements) to set their own, stricter standards. Those states, for example, mandate that 15 percent of all vehicles sold in 2025 to be zero-emission, a requirement that probably won’t exist in the rest of the country. But Pruitt's statement suggests that he might not allow California to continue to determine its own emissions standards.

"EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars. It is in America's best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard."

In our highly charged world of political gamesmanship, them's fightin' words. And this is consistent with the Trump administration's aggressive posture towards California's sovereignty, on everything from sanctuary cities to federal land transfers.

And California, naturally, is prepared to fight back. "We’re prepared to do everything we need to defend the process," Xavier Becerra, California's attorney general, said in an interview with The New York Times.

Environmental advocacy groups are readying for a fight, too. “The current standards have helped bring back, secure, and create jobs nationwide; they have reduced pollution; saved consumers billions at the pump; and have been integral to growing and sustaining America’s manufacturing sector over the past decade,” said a statement by the BlueGreen Alliance, a group of labor unions and environmental groups. “Weakening the rules — which is indicated to be the intent of today’s decision — could put American jobs at risk today and in coming years, and would threaten America’s competitiveness in manufacturing critical technology.”

The long road ahead

Expect the battle over this repeal to take a long time. The courts move slowly, and this is a complicated issue on which billions of dollars in car-industry R&D budgets are resting. Do automakers need to plan to meet the Obama-approved regulations in 2022, or are the forthcoming Trump/Pruitt-proposed regs going to be locked in?

It also has the potential, environmental advocates say, of perhaps putting the US on the back foot when it comes to international emissions regulations. If the EU and China end up with stronger emissions requirements, they could set the tone for car development in the rest of the world. If the US adopts weaker standards, the auto lobby could use that fact to encourage other countries to adopt weaker emissions and fuel economy standards as well. What automakers want, more than anything, is worldwide consistency so they don’t need to make different cars for different markets.

The Obama administration was trying to be the first mover on this and set the tone for everyone else, as Europe and China are just starting the standards-making process. By undoing the aggressive Obama EPA regulations, the Trump administration may lower worldwide standards at the same time. The regulations that Pruitt and the EPA want to overturn are still a few years away — but given lengthy development cycles, automakers are already well into the planning of cars that will be released in a few years. This means any uncertainty (especially around whether stronger regulations will go into effect or not) could be an expensive proposition.

In the end, many car companies are focusing on developing so-called "global cars" — vehicles that are equipped largely identically all around the world. This reduces costs through economies of scale, but also restricts cars to the lowest common denominator between all countries. If China or Europe has stricter requirements, companies (especially those who sell more cars in those markets) may choose to build to stricter requirements from those countries regardless of what the US does.

The automakers, at least publicly, are supportive of whatever the EPA decides. In reality, they’re walking a delicate line between the economic reality of tougher regulations (which would likely drive up costs) and environmental impacts. Carmakers also express a need for a single national emissions standard, not dual requirements for California and then the rest of the US.

GM and Ford both sent us boilerplate statements that don’t add much to the conversation. There isn’t, however, a single “automaker” position on the topic. Carmakers, like Ford, that have more advanced engine and manufacturing technology, are already on track to achieve the current Obama-era standards. In that case, the high standards are a competitive advantage. While others, like Fiat Chrysler, who declined to provide a standalone statement, may find meeting the Obama standards extraordinarily difficult — if not impossible.

The Auto Alliance, a trade group that represents most of the major automakers, is perfectly happy to take sides. It’s openly supportive of Pruitt's move — and has been quietly lobbying for this sort weakening of the standards:

"This was the right decision, and we support the Administration for pursuing a data-driven effort and a single national program as it works to finalize future standards. We appreciate that the Administration is working to find a way to both increase fuel economy standards and keep new vehicles affordable to more Americans.”

Arriving at a destination

To revise the Obama-era regulations, Pruitt's EPA will need to go through a formal rulemaking process, which would include a public notice (which should be coming later this month) and an open comment period. This means a public and lengthy fight — and likely will include lawsuits from multiple players including environmental groups and states opposed to the EPA's proposed changes. It could be years, even beyond the 2020 election, before this is all over.

With the potential implementation of these requirements more than three years away, nothing will need change immediately. But with both sides making hay out of the need for more (or fewer) regulations on the environment, expect the dueling press releases to continue indefinitely. And, soon enough, dueling lawsuits too.

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Obesity ‘to kill more women than smoking in 25 years’

Obesity is to overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable cancer in British women, according to a new paper.

If trends continue, obesity-related cancers could account for 23,000 cases by 2035, compared to 25,000 caused by smoking in the same year, said the report by Cancer Research UK.

By 2043 obesity is likely to cause more cancer cases than smoking.

The conclusions were based on projections, and researchers stressed that there remain many uncertainties in predicting what will cause cancers in the future.

As fewer people smoke and obesity rates increase, however, the gap will continue to close.

With higher rates of obesity and fewer smokers among women than men, the narrowing is happening faster among women.

Blog post: How we estimated when obesity might catch smoking as the top cause of cancer: https://t.co/UmTgnmth6A pic.twitter.com/7EyEF7dnMU

— Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK) 24 September 2018

The charity is now launching a campaign to raise awareness of the link between cancer and obesity, and to encourage a healthier lifestyle.

It said only around one in seven people in the UK are aware of the link between obesity and cancer.

"The decline in smoking is a cause for celebration. It shows how decades of effort to raise awareness about the health risks plus strong political action including taxation, removing tobacco marketing and a ban on smoking in indoor public places, have paid off," said professor Linda Bauld, a prevention expert at the charity.

"But, just as there is still more to do to support people to quit smoking, we also need to act now to halt the tide of weight-related cancers and ensure this projection never becomes a reality."

Measures suggested following the research including a ban on junk food adverts before 9pm and restrictions on promotions of unhealthy food and drink.

"Obesity is the new smoking, one of the greatest public health challenges of our generation," a spokesperson for NHS England said.

"Expanding waistlines also mean a heavier burden for taxpayers which is why, as we draw up a long term plan for the NHS, we are exploring all options to help patients to help themselves and help the NHS."

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In releasing the report, Cancer Research says it hopes to prevent the projected rise in obesity-related cancers becoming a reality – by taking cues from success in stopping smoking.

In the first half of the 20th century it is believed that up to 80% of men smoked, but today around 17% of men are smokers.

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AI soldiers: Army trials battlefield scanning technology

Artificial intelligence which scans battlefields for hidden attackers has been successfully trialled by the British Army.

The UK-created technology, dubbed SAPIENT, flagged dangers to soldiers as sensors scanned a mock urban battlefield in Montreal, Canada.

The Ministry of Defence says the technology will free up other soldiers who man live CCTV-type feeds for enemy movement, and will reduce human error.

The system was tested alongside other experimental military technology, including robotic exoskeleton suits, night vision, and surveillance systems.

Soldiers trial UK-created artificial intelligence technology that scans battlefields to detect hidden attackers
Image: MoD hopes SAPIENT will 'give us the edge in future battles'

Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said: "This British system can act as autonomous eyes in the urban battlefield.

"This technology can scan streets for enemy movements so troops can be ready for combat with quicker, more reliable information on attackers hiding around the corner.

"Investing millions in advanced technology like this will give us the edge in future battles."

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The army's three-week trial was the latest in a series of Contested Urban Environment experiments, which involve soldiers from the Five Eyes allied nations of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US.

Soldiers tested the latest military technology from several nations. The UK is set to hold a similar exercise in 2020.

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3D gun pioneer charged with sexual assault on teen

By Russell Hope, news reporter

Cody Wilson, the US businessman whose company supplies 3D printed guns, has been charged with allegedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl.

Wilson, who created blueprints for untraceable 3D-printed guns and posted them online, appeared in court in Houston after being deported from Taiwan, where he had fled after being told police were investigating allegations he had sex with the minor.

He was arrested by US marshals when he landed at the city's airport on Saturday and held in custody on a $150,000 (£114,740) bond.

Cody Wilson disguised himself when he left Taiwan
Image: Cody Wilson disguised himself when he left Taiwan

Police accuse Wilson, who they say met the girl on SugarDaddyMeet.com, of meeting her in the car park of a coffee shop in Austin, before buying her coffee.

Investigators say he then took her to a hotel in the north of the city, where he allegedly assaulted her before paying her $500 (£383) in cash.

The age of consent in Texas is 17.

Cody Wilson, owner of Defense Distributed company, holds a 3D printed gun, called the 'Liberator', in his factory in Austin, Texas on August 1, 2018. - The US 'crypto-anarchist' who caused panic this week by publishing online blueprints for 3D-printed firearms said Wednesday that whatever the outcome of a legal battle, he has already succeeded in his political goal of spreading the designs far and wide
Image: Cody Wilson holding a 3D printed gun at his factory in Austin, Texas
Mr Wilson can print plastic guns which are untraceable
Image: Mr Wilson can print plastic guns which are untraceable

The girl told investigators that after having sex, he dropped her off at a Whataburger restaurant.

Wilson, a self-styled "crypto-anarchist", was arrested on Friday at a hotel in Taiwan by local police.

He covered his face with a scarf, hoodie and sunglasses as he left Taiwan, but was wearing none of those as he was led away by US marshals in Houston following his arrest.

Last month a federal court banned Wilson from posting the designs for the 3D printed weapons online free of charge.

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He has since been selling them for whatever his customers are prepared to pay, via his website.

Authorities worry the firearms are easy to conceal and untraceable as there's no requirement for them to have serial numbers, which are a crucial part of any investigation of a crime in which shots are fired.

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Computer help fraudsters steal £21m from UK victims

More than £21m has been stolen from over 22,000 people in the UK by fraudsters offering fake help with computer issues, according to new figures.

Action Fraud, the specialist nationwide reporting point for cyber crime run by City of London police, has launched a campaign to educate people about Computer Software Service fraud.

It can start with either a phone call, an email or a pop-up message appearing on your computer, telling you there's something wrong with it or with your internet connection, and claiming that it needs to be fixed.

The scammers will then demand payment to fix the issue, or they will trick victims into installing software on their computer which could allow the criminals to access personal and financial details.

Action Fraud stated it received 22,609 reports of Computer Software Service fraud with a total of £21,365,360 being lost over the last financial year.

According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, men and women are equally susceptible to being targeted by the fraudsters, and victims are on average 63 years old.

The bureau's figures show that people living in London and Bristol are most likely to fall victim too.

Fraud became the most common type of crime in England and Wales in 2016 because of the increasing profits to be made through cyber fraud and computer misuse.

Protection advice from Action Fraud and City of London Police will be issued on their social media channels to help people learn how to protect themselves.

The forces are also encouraging businesses to warn customers that they will never be contacted in that way if any issues are detected.

City of London Police's Lara Xenoudakis said: "These fraudsters prey on vulnerable victims, doing everything they can to convince them there is something wrong with their computer.

"They use this as a way to gain immediate and in some cases multiple payments from the victim.

"During this campaign week, we are asking people to do everything they can to protect themselves from this type of fraud and stop fraudsters from thinking that this is an easy way to make money from unsuspecting victims."

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Other officers are also contributing to the campaign.

WE CAN ALL LEND A HAND 🖐🏼 TO STOP FRAUD!
Fraudsters want to get into the homes /lives of people in our communities.
Start by telling just 2 friends & family. #Tell2#HangUp on fraud and consider a call blocking device. pic.twitter.com/u9q10LDr8d

— Tony Murray – National Protect Officer (@CityPoliceTell2) September 21, 2018

City of London Police's protect officer Tony Murray has recorded a comedic video to inform people about fraud and is offering to spend the night in a "haunted" cell if his tweet receives 200 retweets.

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White House ‘prepares to investigate tech giants’

By Alexander J Martin, technology reporter

The White House has drafted an executive order for Donald Trump which would instruct federal agencies to investigate the business practices of technology giants including Facebook and Google.

Without naming specific companies, a draft copy of the order, obtained by Bloomberg, instructs antitrust (competition law) authorities to "thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws".

Other federal agencies are instructed to develop recommendations on how to "protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias" within a month by the order, which has not been finalised.

It is currently in its preliminary stages and federal agencies will consult on its contents before it goes to the president.

Mr Trump publicly accused Google of rigging its search results against him last month, apparently based on claims broadcast on the Lou Dobbs Tonight programme, a show on Fox.

#StopTheBias pic.twitter.com/xqz599iQZw

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2018

He also claimed in a tweet that the web giant promoted Barack Obama's addresses but not his own.

Google rejected the allegations.

Detecting and establishing bias in complicated algorithms is a growing problem in the field of computer science, with artificial intelligence being used to make determinations issues such as the likelihood of prisoners to reoffend and loan interest rates.

Biased algorithms could have especially significant financial repercussions when they control the results of commercial platforms as dominant as Google Search.

The bias that Mr Trump has accused technology companies of remains political, despite research by independent parties not supporting his accusations.

However, the executive order could also allow federal agencies to investigate whether the companies' products are skewed to support themselves in an anti-competitive manner.

If signed, the order could indicate a significant clash between the Trump administration and the US tech giants, which have risen largely free of regulatory interference since the dot-com crash in the late 1990s.

Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Google 'abused it's market dominance' 1:49
Video: 2017: Google 'systematically abused its position' – EU

Historically, the US has taken a back seat to the EU when it comes to investigating the web giants on competition grounds, with the Competition Commissioner recently fining Google €4.34bn (£3.8bn) for abusing its control of the Android operating system.

"Because of their critical role in American society, it is essential that American citizens are protected from anticompetitive acts by dominant online platforms," the order states, according to Bloomberg.

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The order notes that "consumer harm", a key measure in antitrust investigations, could be assessed "through the exercise of bias" – which is likely to raise concerns about Mr Trump attempting to influence political judgements.

The draft order states that any actions the investigators take should be "consistent with other laws" – apparently to reference concerns about conflict between the order and the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of political opinion.

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