US PIRG Denounces Federal Proposal to Stall Clean Car Standards

Ignacio Smith
August 4, 2018

The Trump administration said yesterday that it wants to freeze fuel-efficiency requirements for automobiles and trucks through 2026, putting it directly at odds with California's standards and climate-control advocates, as well as prevailing sentiment in the auto industry.

The joint proposal lays out eight options for new national fuel-economy standards for model years 2021-26.

"Freezing fuel efficiency standards at this critical juncture, when momentum is picking up and billions of dollars in investments are following suit, would cede the growing EV market to China and create unnecessary regulatory uncertainty for automakers in the United States". The government estimated that switching from a vehicle that gets 20 mpg to one that gets 25 mpg decreases greenhouse gas emissions by about 1.7 tons per year.

The decision, announced jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, had been expected for weeks by clean-air advocates, but turned out be worse than anticipated, according to environmentalists.

The administration said the freeze would boost USA oil consumption by about 500,000 barrels of oil a day by the 2030s, and argued it would prevent up to 1,000 traffic fatalities per year by reducing the price of new vehicles and so prompting people to buy newer, safer vehicles more quickly.

Attorney General Becerra called the proposed rule change a "brazen and unlawful attack on our nation's Clean Air Standards" and said the state "will use every legal tool at its disposal to fight back".

An attempt by the Trump administration to halt stricter vehicle-mileage standards will once again pit the federal government against California - but one element of the dispute is unprecedented. "It could save up to a thousand lives annually by reducing these barriers that prevent consumers from getting into newer, safer cars".

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"More realistic standards will promote a healthy economy by bringing newer, safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles to USA roads and we look forward to receiving input from the public", said Chao.

While that conclusion forms the basis of the Trump administration's reasoning on rolling back the pollution rule, it is in direct opposition to the Obama administration's analysis of the same rule, which found that improving fuel-economy standards would actually lead to about 100 fewer auto-related casualties.

As can be imagined, not everyone sees the subject in the same favorable light as the Trump administration.

Republican lawmakers cheered the proposal.

The administration's proposal would freeze miles-per-gallon targets in 2020.

"The fundamental question associated with this mandate is clear: who should decide what types of cars consumers should buy, consumers themselves or bureaucrats in Sacramento or Washington?" he asked. It will then consider those comments and issue a final version of the rule, most likely this year.

The proposed change, halting further improvement requirements, stakes its case on consumer choice and on highway safety claims challenged by many transportation experts.

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While the chief executives of auto companies previous year asked Trump to loosen the Obama-era rules, they have since asked him not to pull them as far back as he has sought to do in Thursday's proposal.

The proposal would also eliminate a federal waiver that has allowed California to set more stringent clean-car rules. The Golden State's Democratic Governor Jerry Brown was a bit more emphatic in his response, saying that his state "will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible".

"For Trump to now destroy a law first enacted at the request of Ronald Reagan five decades ago is a betrayal and an assault on the health of Americans everywhere", he said. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said today the state is not backing down.

"With today's release of the administration's proposals, it's time for substantive negotiations to begin", Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement.

More than a third of US auto buyers live in the 13 states plus Washington, DC, that have already adopted Clean Car standards requiring vehicles to have stronger emission controls.

Speaking to a Senate panel Wednesday, Wheeler, the acting head of the EPA, said he would like to find a way to avoid a legal showdown with California.

The rollback would undermine efforts by California and several other states to meet commitments the US made in the Paris agreement on climate change.

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