Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, Trump Administration Finds Time to Roll Back Fuel Efficiency Standards

As the United States is in throes of the COVID-19 pandemic and is desperately looking for federal leadership, the Trump Administration is expected to finalize its rollback President Obama’s fuel efficiency standards. A move that could see billions of tons of additional emissions from cars over their lifetimes.

What The Rollbacks Achieve: As the New York Times explained,

  • The new rule, written by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, would allow vehicles on American roads to emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the cars than they would have under the Obama standards and hundreds of millions of tons more than will be emitted under standards being implemented in Europe and Asia.

The Bad: In an effort to cripple President Obama’s environmental legacy, the Trump administration has vowed to be aggressive in its aim to walk back his most impactful environmental regulations. Trump’s rollback comes despite 17 of the biggest auto companies sending him a letter warning that if he goes ahead with this plan to roll back the fuel efficiency standards set by the Obama Administration, it “threatens to cut their profits and produce “untenable” instability in a crucial manufacturing sector.”

When Trump began the process to undo efficiency standards back in 2017 he claimed that this move would protect auto industry jobs and that “The assault on the American auto industry is over.” But the reality is that auto industry jobs have only been cut during the Trump administration and wages have been largely stagnant. 

The Ugly: Lower fuel efficiency standards haven’t been proven to save automakers or consumers money. And, in fact, for automakers that have sided with the Trump administration’s efforts, this move could prove to seriously backfire on them:

California Governor Gavin Newsome took the fight over tailpipe standards to a whole new level by barring the purchase of new gas-powered vehicles for state government fleets from GM, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and other automakers that backed the Trump Administration.  This will apparently hit GM the hardest — California spent more than $27 million on passenger vehicles from GM-owned Chevrolet in 2018 — altogether the state spent nearly $75m on cars in 2018.

Additionally, as the New York Times added, “the administration’s own draft economic analyses of the rule showed that it could hurt consumers by forcing them to purchase more gasoline. And a February report by a panel of government-appointed scientists, many of them selected by the Trump administration, concluded that “there are significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis” of the rule.”

Why This Matters: At a time when the Trump administration should be preoccupied with its response to the coronavirus crisis, it’s found the time to roll back fuel efficiency standards that pollute our air and don’t necessarily save Americans money. When President Obama implemented his fuel efficiency standards, his administration estimated that every dollar spent to comply with the standards would return $13 in health benefits and the additional cost to the price of a car would be just $72.

So who exactly is gaining anything with Trump’s rollbacks? Certainly not the American people who are already in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis and will now breathe dirtier air.

Go Deeper: How cuts to fuel efficiency standards will affect the growth of electric vehicle sales in the United States.

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