Commentary

Claiming It Will Sell More Cars, Trump Rolls Back Obama-Era Fuel Goals

Against the wishes of several states, environmental groups and even some automakers, the Trump Administration yesterday announced it has followed through on its promise to roll back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards that were set to take effect in five years.

“The final rule is a dialed-down version of the one the administration originally planned. Instead of proposing zero improvements in fuel efficiency in coming years, it would require automakers to increase fuel economy across their fleets by 1.5% a year, with a goal of achieving an average of about 40 miles per gallon by 2026. That’s still a major departure from current rules, which mandate annual increases of 5%, reaching an average of 54 mpg by 2025,” Anna M. Phillips and Russ Mitchell write  for The Los Angeles Times.

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“Nearly 900 million more tons of carbon dioxide are expected to be released under the new rule than under the Obama-era standards, a result of less efficient cars burning an additional 78 billion gallons of fuel,” they add.

“Opponents contend the change -- gutting his predecessor’s legacy effort against climate-changing fossil fuel emissions -- appears driven by Trump’s push to undo regulatory initiatives of former President Barack Obama, and say even the administration has had difficulty pointing to the kind of specific, demonstrable benefits to drivers, public health and safety or the economy that normally accompany standards changes,” observe  the AP’s Ellen Knickmeyer and Tom Krisher.

“Three years ago, President Trump pledged to autoworkers and consumers that he would reinvigorate American auto manufacturing by updating formerly costly, increasingly unachievable fuel economy and vehicle CO2 emissions standards,” Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao declared yesterday in announcing the standards with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator James Owens.

“This rule reflects the Department’s No. 1 priority -- safety -- by making newer, safer, cleaner vehicles more accessible for Americans who are, on average, driving 12-year-old cars. By making newer, safer, and cleaner vehicles more accessible for American families, more lives will be saved and more jobs will be created,” Chao continued.

“But the rule has been mired by doubts that it will actually save lives. Earlier government analysis found that while 600 to 700 Americans might be saved by better safety features, nearly 1,000 might die prematurely given the increase in smog and air pollution from vehicle emissions, according to documents obtained by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.),” Rebecca Beitsch writes  for The Hill.

“And even with historically low gas prices, consumers are expected to pay more at the pump. An analysis from Consumer Reports found U.S. drivers would spend $300 billion more on gas over the lifetime of the vehicles because of the decrease in fuel efficiency,” Beitsch continues.

“The regulation was revised from last summer when the Trump administration proposed freezing the standards. Officials said they adjusted the proposal to include a ‘realistic and achievable’ increase after receiving more than 700,00 comments from the industry and the public,” Ledyard King writes  for USA Today.

That proposal “touched off a huge legal fight with California, which has authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own greenhouse gas emissions, and by extension, gas mileage standards. Trump revoked California's authority, and the state challenged the decision in court.  The auto industry split on the matter: Four companies -- Ford, BMW, Volkswagen and Honda -- sided with California. Most other automakers went with Trump,” King writes.

“The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the industry’s largest and recently unified trade group, said it was still reviewing the rule. It said the greatest opportunity for environmental progress is in longer-term policy beyond 2026, the model year when the new rule expires,” Timothy Puko writes  for The Wall Street Journal.

“Looking to the future, we need policies that support a customer-friendly shift toward these electrified and other highly efficient technologies,” John Bozzella, the group’s leader, said  in a statement cited by Puko.

“Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who represents a district with a heavy auto industry presence, said the rules will cause “serious and detrimental harm to an industry that needs certainty,” Michael Laris and Ian Duncan write  for The Washington Post.

“‘The Administration’s inability to work with all stakeholders to develop a consensus proposal will cause more uncertainty and chaos for an industry recently turned on its head by the COVID-19 epidemic,’ Dingell said in a statement, adding that more litigation is sure to follow,” Laris and Duncan continue. 

“California officials said they were prepared to fight the plan in court, and blasted the Trump administration for releasing the final rules at a time when state officials are scrambling to contain the coronavirus pandemic,” Michael Wilner and Dale Kasler report  for The Sacramento Bee.

“We've seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic. We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial. All of us, especially young people, have to demand better of our government at every level and vote this fall,” Obama tweeted while Trump, among other things, blasted “politically correct Automobile Companies” and “Foolish executives!” for not standing with him.

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