TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The Environmental Protection Agency is moving 30 workers from another project to its testing and certification area to make sure auto makers are meeting the fuel-saving goals that have been set for them.

To combat climate change, “it is incredibly important that we execute well what has already been done,” Christopher Grundler, the new director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, says in referring to the 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km) fleet-fuel-economy goal for 2025.

Auto makers are investing heavily in new technologies to meet the targets, he says. “We will do what we need to do to protect those investments, so everyone is testing and labeling the same, and you can in good faith make these investments.

“This part of the business is occupying more attention than before,” he adds. “This is more and more competitive, and we want to make sure we are doing our job.”

Grundler cheers the auto industry for its recent cooperation in establishing fuel-economy regulations for the coming years.

“Our kids and grandkids face a far better future because of the work you and your suppliers do,” he tells the Management Briefing Seminars audience here.

EPA standards on air quality are the most cost-effective regulations of any kind made by the federal government, he says, citing a Congressional Budget Office analysis concluding the public benefits generated by the rules are 12 times the cost involved.

Still, Grundler says, some 158 million Americans live in areas of poor air quality, and new rules for medium and heavy trucks will attempt to improve that situation.

The Tier 3 vehicle and low-sulfur fuel standards proposed March 29 would prevent 2,400 premature deaths by 2030 and save 1.8 million lost days of work and school because of respiratory problems. he says.

The rules are designed to include California, so that a single vehicle model can be sold across the country. They will cover carbon-dioxide emissions as well as common air pollutants beginning in 2017.

The 10 parts-per-million low-sulfur fuel will enable lean-burn technologies “so you have certainty and lead time. The benefits will begin from Day 1, Jan. 1, 2017, because low sulfur has benefits for all existing vehicles.”

Auto makers probably will need to add about $130 to the cost of a vehicle, Grundler notes, while the oil industry will add less than $0.01 a gallon to meet the rules. But the auto industry supported the change in public hearings, while the oil industry opposed it.

The success of the EPA and the industry are intertwined, Grundler says. “If you don’t sell cars that are cleaner and more efficient in numbers that matter, we both fail.”

Since 1970, he says, pollutants have declined 68%, despite a 52% growth in population and a nearly equal increase in energy consumption. He notes 28% of the vehicles sold in 2013, covering 90 models, already meet the 2016 standards for fuel economy, and 5% of them would meet the rules for 2025.

The EPA will review the regulations for 2021-2025, with a final technical report due in November 2017. The agency will “work with industry to double check all the simulations we made,” Grundler promises, and make a final determination on the fuel-economy rules by April 2018.

There are three possible outcomes, he says. The EPA could decide the rules are correct and not change them. It also could determine progress is faster or slower than expected and either raise the standard or relax the rules.

Decisions will be based on what the law says, what the data says and what common sense says, Grundler indicates.

The EPA official is taking his job personally, attending hearings on proposed new rules for trucks and visiting powertrain engineers in Germany.

“I did a lot of listening and asked a lot of questions,” Grundler says. “It was incredibly good to talk to the product-development folks. I’m going to do the same this fall with the Detroit auto makers, and next spring I will go to Japan, assuming the EPA still has a budget.”