Of all the Trump administration’s assaults on the environment, there may be none more destructive than the decision to weaken fuel economy standards and let cars, passenger trucks and SUV burn more gas and spew more tailpipe pollution.
The fuel economy standards adopted by the Obama administration in 2012 were a central part of the United States’ efforts to reduce the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. The regulations pushed automakers to move faster to develop fuel-sipping vehicles by requiring the new cars and trucks they sold to collectively average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.
The Trump plan announced Thursday would freeze average fuel economy at 37 miles per gallon in 2021.
Worse, the Trump plan seeks to revoke California’s longstanding legal authority to set its own standards for cleaner vehicles. If successful, the Trump administration would be stunting decades of progress in California and other states toward cleaner, healthier air, and it would be hobbling the worldwide effort to combat climate change.
Indeed, the Trump administration’s decision to roll back the standards is especially appalling now. We’re already feeling the effects of global warming in more extreme weather events, from prolonged droughts, endless wildfire seasons and unprecedented heat waves to severe hurricanes and floods.
If there is any hope of avoiding catastrophe, the world has to dramatically slash the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. In the United States, that means making gas-powered vehicles more fuel efficient, thereby cutting tailpipe emissions, and transitioning to zero-emission vehicles. Cars and trucks are the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
And yet despite the grave risk of delay, the Trump administration has put forth flimsy justifications for the rollback. The plan, developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, asserts that lower fuel economy standards will save lives — the higher price of more fuel-efficient vehicles (about $2,300 more per car, they say) encourages some people to continue driving older, less-safe vehicles, the agencies say. That ignores the fact that more fuel-efficient vehicles are cheaper to operate since drivers have to buy less gas.
(It also ignores the very significant impact President Trump’s threatened tariffs could have on imported cars. Automakers estimate the tariffs could increase the average cost of a car by more than $5,000, dwarfing any potential bump in cost from fuel efficient technology.)
The delay on fuel economy is unwarranted. Automakers are capable of producing more fuel efficient cars. In fact, most of the major car companies have already pledged to develop more electric vehicles in response to demands by China and European countries.
The Trump administration would leave Americans stuck in gas-guzzling vehicles and breathing smoggy air while the rest of the world enjoys the benefits of automotive innovation. And it would be yet another sign that the current president and his allies in Congress have totally abdicated their responsibility to protect the health of Americans and the environment.