Trump Unveils Plan to Roll Back Auto Emissions Rules

The Trump Administration finally announced its plan to freeze auto emissions standards, despite that the auto industry doesn’t want it and it will make global warming worse.

If the just-released Trump administration recommendations go into effect, the auto industry will see fuel efficiency standards freeze at about 37 mpg as of 2021.

One of the most important policies Presidents going back to the days of Reagan have used to manage atmospheric pollution was to demand steadily increasing fuel efficiency for automobiles made and sold in the United States. Other policies tied to the same issues reach back to the 1970s when California was granted special exemptions under the 1970 Clean Air Act to enforce its own emissions regulations. The result of both was far cleaner air for California and the nation. The most recent auto emissions regulations put in place under Obama also were making a major impact on U.S. contributions to global warming.

The new plan was announced jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department. It would eliminate a rule put in place in 2012 which required auto manufacturers to push for a near doubling of passenger vehicle fuel economy to ~54 miles per gallon by just 7 years from now – 2025. The new rule would instead freeze fuel standards at 37 miles per gallon as of 2021. It would also get ride of the waiver going back to the Clean Air Act days that allows states such as California – and now 13 other states across the United States – to set their own pollution standards tougher than what the Federal Government requires.

The justification the Trump Administration gave for making the changes was that, by helping lower the cost of new cars by minimizing the need for more efficient vehicles, it could make cars more affordable. As Heidi King, the Transportation Department’s acting administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said during a conference call about the new rules on August 2, “This rule promises to save lives. It could save up to a thousand lives annually by reducing these barriers that prevent consumers from getting into newer, safer cars.”

Others are not buying that logic, which seems to many aimed primarily at allowing continued higher use of fossil fuels for cars for a longer period of time. As John DeCicco, a transportation technology expert at the University of Michigan, said in an interview about the new standards, “The administration’s effort to roll back these standards is a denial of basic science and a denial of American automakers’ engineering capabilities and ingenuity.”

If the new rules go into place as planned, a total of 19 state attorneys plan to sue the Federal government. They would be suing to protect states’ rights to establish their own pollution standards, as previously allowed under the variance to the Clean Air Act. The states would be challenging what they say is a false assumption that cleaner cars would mean a higher number of crash fatalities.

As noted before, despite the Trump administration saying how good this would be for business, even those organizations which would in theory benefit from the standards being rolled back have not said much.

The American Petroleum Institute, for example, which represents the oil industry, and which would gain because more fossil fuel emissions used, did not respond to the August 2 announcement with any public statement.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has also said nothing right now, perhaps considering the chaos which might result as states sue to keep their rights to set tougher emissions standards. On May 3, however, when the current White House plan was just being crafted, the Alliance was even clearer about its position – and it did not line up with what Donald Trump’s team came up with. In his may statement, David Schwietert, executive vice-president of federal government relations for the Alliance wrote that, ““Automakers remain committed to increasing fuel efficiency requirements which yield everyday fuel savings for consumers while also reducing emissions – because climate change is real and we have a continuing role in reducing greenhouse gases and improving fuel efficiency.” This is coming from an organization which lobbies on behalf of BMW Group, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America, and Volvo Car USA.

The new rules have been published in the federal register. That is not the same as making it law, but it is equivalent to putting the country on notice that changes are coming. The next expected step is for the White House to ask for public comments on the rule. Once those are in, the Trump Administration is expected to issue a final version of the new auto emissions rules by the end of 2018.

For further background on the auto emissions rollbacks, see “Why is Trump Demanding Auto Fuel Efficiency Rollbacks?”, published on May 22, 2018 in Trillions.