Fuel Efficiency Rollback Ordered by Trump’s EPA

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The EPA admits its rollback of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards will increase pollution and boost motorists’ fuel costs.

The Trump Administration, as expected, has rolled back tough automotive fuel efficiency standards set during the Obama years.

The action won’t take immediate effect as it will be tied up in court for months, perhaps years. But critics say it is a clear sign that the administration favors oil producers and automakers over public health.

The fuel efficiency standards targeted by the EPA were set in 2012 as part of an effort to reduce toxic exhaust emissions created by burning fossil fuels – gasoline and diesel – in light vehicle engines.

They would have imposed an average 5 percent per year improvement in fleetwide fuel efficiency, culminating in a regulatory average of 54 mpg for light cars and trucks in 2025. That translates to real world fuel efficiency of  38-40 mpg.  

The disconnect occurs in part because regulatory testing methods don’t reflect real-world driving conditions and in part because the EPA assigns efficiency boosting credits for hard-to-measure technologies – such as active grill shutters and improved air conditioning systems –  aimed at reducing fuel consumption.

Under the new EPA standards, automakers would have to average a 1.5 percent annual boost in fleetwide fuel efficiency and to hit a regulatory average of just 40 mpg by 2025. That’s about 30 mpg in real-world terms.

Irrational Rationale

The president has argued that the fuel efficiency rollback would lead to safer cars because automakers wouldn’t have to be as concerned about cutting weight to boost efficiency. He also has said that the rules will make cars cheaper – by an average of $1,000 – and thus will help the domestic auto industry.

An EPA official initially found that the Trump plan would lead to an increase in fatal traffic accidents – a finding omitted in the agency’s official analysis, which has been excoriated for flawed math and twisted reasoning.

 At the same time, the cost to American motorists in extra fuel would increase by $1,400, the EPA found, thus obliterating the savings from lower purchase prices. The rollback will actually cost the U.S economy $13 billion to $22 billion, the agency found.

The EPA analysis also found that the rollback would lead to a nearly 10 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions.

That could make U.S.-spec cars and light trucks unmarketable in much of Europe and Asia, where emissions rules are much tougher.

Some automakers, including General Motors and Toyota, backed the Trump rollback, saying they are not opposed to tougher fuel efficiency standards but want to see a single national standard.

 California is allowed under the federal Clean Air Act to impose tougher-than-federal emissions rules, and other states can opt to adopt California’s rules. To date, nearly a dozen have. These states account for almost 30 percent of annual new car sales.

As part of the present administration’s efforts to roll back fuel efficiency standards, the federal government has sought to block California’s right to set its own rules. The state is suing the block that ruling.

Ironically, if the Trump fuel efficiency rollback is upheld, automakers would still have to deal with multiple sets of standards if they want to compete globally.

The EPA’s own science advisors said in a February analysis of the agency’s planned rollback that the technical analysis used to justify the new standards was horrible flawed. 

“The standards in the 2012 rule might provide a better outcome for society than the proposed revision,” the advisory board wrote, to no avail.

The Fight’s On

A group of states led by California already have announced intent to sue to block the rollback.

“We intend to make sure the backsliding doesn’t reach California’s doorstep,” California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said.

California also is suing to block the administration’s effort to revoke the EPA waiver that allows it to set its own tougher-than-federal emission standards – which are based on fuel efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for Clean Air, a California environmental lobbying group, has sent a letter to the state’s governor and leaders of both houses of the state legislature urging them to stand fast in their opposition to a slew of EPA rollbacks that are weakening federal clean water and clean air policies.

In addition to suing to block the cut in fuel efficiency requirements, California has struck a private agreement with Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen to continue pursuing tougher fuel efficiency. The agreement calls for those automakers to achieve a fleetwide regulatory average of 51 mpg by 2025. That’s about 35 mpg in real-world terms.

The Coalition, a group of 20 environmental, climate and public health organization, notes that the Trump Administration’s decision will lead to increased air pollution.

This comes at a time the Covid-19 pandemic is most threatening to people with the kinds of respiratory diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution.

The letter cautions that “weakening of delaying needed health based standards would damage both our economy and our health.” It urges state political leaders to “stand firm in defense of public health” even while “the Trump Administration continues, even during this (Covid-9) crisis, to roll back sensible standards at the behest of polluters.”

To date, the Trump EPA has rolled back or eliminated more than 100 rules affecting air and water pollution.

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