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FedEx CEO Backed by Generals Tries to Nudge Trump on Fuel Rules


Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg News

To get Donald Trump to come around to tougher fuel-economy standards, a corporate titan is calling in the troops and following a battle plan that worked when George W. Bush was president.

FedEx Corp. CEO Fred Smith, with backing from corporate executives and a phalanx of retired U.S. generals and admirals, is urging the president not to eviscerate rules that would raise motor-vehicle mileage standards through 2025. Trump says those changes could destroy the auto industry. But Smith and his allies are positioning the regulations as crucial to defense and diplomacy, a tack that won over the Bush administration in 2007.

FedEx ranks No. 2 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

“Our group is unique in looking at this problem from the perspective of national security,” Smith said in an interview, referring to the nonpartisan Securing America’s Future Energy, or SAFE. “If we can help solve the environmental risks, so much the better.”

Smith, 72, had an ace up his sleeve with Bush: The two were fraternity brothers at Yale University. He’s optimistic that Trump, an avowed nationalist, will see fuel-economy standards as a way to stick it to OPEC and wean the U.S. off the oil that still powers 92% of the U.S. transportation fleet. SAFE is pressing its case with administration officials, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

SAFE spokeswoman Leslie Hayward said the group is having a constructive dialogue with the Trump administration but declined to comment on specific meetings.

Smith is a history buff who rattles off battles waged over oil during the last century. He and SAFE played a key role in 2007 when the Bush administration mandated the first new-vehicle fuel-economy standards in 32 years. The group’s arguments were easier to make then because oil was surging toward a peak of $147 during the lead-up to the global financial crisis. A barrel now costs about a third as much.

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By John Lippert
Bloomberg News


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