A small group of environmentalists gathered outside the Boston EPA office Tuesday to protest the agency’s proposed plan to roll back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for cars.

The protest came just as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spoke in Washington about the rollback. Pruitt said the Obama-era standards, which require automakers to achieve a fleet average of 36 miles per gallon by 2025, were bad for the industry.

“I think the focus in the past has been on making manufacturers in Detroit, making manufacturers in other parts of the country, make cars that people aren’t going to buy,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said regulations are driving up prices and preventing drivers from replacing older cars. 

But outside the Boston EPA office, Ben Hellerstein of the group Environment Massachusetts said stricter standards encourage automakers to invest in electric and other lower-emission cars.

“We know that we have a very narrow window of opportunity to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and we should be accelerating our progress towards a future powered entirely by renewable energy, not taking any steps backwards,” he said.

California has a waiver to set its own strict standards, which Massachusetts and 11 other states follow. A loosening of the federal standards would put them at odds with standards in those states.

“That’s not good for the automakers," said Matt Casale of the consumer advocacy group MassPIRG. "You know, in California and Massachusetts they have to meet one standard, and in the rest of the country they have to meet another standard. It just makes more sense to keep this California standard, the strict standard for fuel efficiency, keep it high, and keep it consistent throughout the country.”

Matt Casale of MassPIRG (left) and Ben Hellerstein of Environment Massachusetts.
Craig LeMoult/WGBH

Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement Tuesday that the states will work together to defend those standards. 

“These common sense rules have done more than any other measure to increase miles per gallon, improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, and save drivers money on gas," Healey said in the statement. "Scott Pruitt has once again illegally handed EPA decision-making over to climate-deniers and fossil-fuel lobbyists, while sticking the American people with dirtier air and higher prices at the pump. Since the public can no longer depend on the EPA to protect their interests, we are working with our state partners to defend the rule.”