The Trump administration finalized a major rollback of fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles today. The revised standards will maintain dangerous levels of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and cost consumers more at the gas pump without making the nation’s roads safer.
The administration’s final Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule, or so-called “SAFE” rule, is a joint effort of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation. It requires automakers to increase fuel efficiency by only 1.5% per year for cars and light trucks in the model years 2021 through 2026 — a dramatic rollback of Obama administration rules that required annual efficiency increases of nearly 5%.
“The Trump administration’s rollback condemns Americans to choke on smog and suffer more climate pollution from refineries and tailpipes,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, a Los Angeles-based attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s shameful that Trump officials pushed this through during a viral pandemic that preys on people with asthma and other health problems linked to dirty air.”
People with asthma are at higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19, and traffic-related air pollution can increase the risk of developing asthma in both children and adults, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
The new rule comes in the midst of a strong-arm power play by the White House to deny California’s efforts to curb vehicle emissions. Last fall the Center and other groups sued the Trump administration over its attempt to block the state from setting auto emissions standards more protective than the federal government’s; that case is pending.
The rollback also follows an announcement that the EPA, under the president’s direction, will indefinitely scale back enforcement of environmental regulations. While the Trump administration cites the COVID-19 pandemic for this non[-]enforcement, those with respiratory conditions created or worsened by dirtier air could be even more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19.
When the Obama White House finalized its fuel-efficiency standards in 2012, the EPA estimated they would save consumers as much as $1.7 trillion and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 million barrels, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion metric tons by the middle of this decade.
The Trump administration has argued that this relaxation of these standards would make new cars cheaper and the nation’s roads safer, but these claims were contradicted by the administration’s own scientists. In a report last summer, the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board called the expectation that these rollbacks would save money and lives “implausible.”
The failure to curb car pollution will harm the climate. The world’s top scientists agree that 2010 greenhouse gas emissions levels must be halved by 2030. While this will require more ambitious changes, including a rapid move to zero-emissions vehicles, aggressive fuel-efficiency requirements are a crucial step.
“By crippling clean-car rules, the Trump administration will hurt our climate and help the rest of the world surpass the U.S. in zero-emission automobile technology,” said Golden-Krasner. “This rule takes us backward just when we should be moving quickly to take all fossil fuel vehicles off the road to fight the climate crisis.”
From a Mar. 31, 2020 Center for Biological Diversity press release.
Image above: Wikimedia Commons