By Don Anair, Union of Concerned Scientists
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation released their long-awaited revisions to federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards. To no one’s surprise, their preferred alternative is to essentially eliminate the standards—a predetermined outcome that the administration is now trying to defend with bogus analysis. The current standards were created in collaboration with California and the entire automotive industry and have directly made new cars and trucks cleaner and cheaper to drive. EPA and California Air Resources Board scientists spent years studying the standards, as was required, and concluded last year they are technologically feasible and cost-effective.
Millions of vehicle owners, transportation experts, public health officials and consumer advocates are rightfully outraged.
Thanks to the Clean Air Act, California has a waiver from the EPA to maintain tougher state emission standards despite a national rollback. However, with the current proposal the administration intends to make real its threat to revoke California’s authority to set its own standards. California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra says California will take any step necessary to protect our planet and people and recently, Representative DeSaulnier (CA), introduced a resolution aimed at protecting state authority while Senator Harris (CA) is expected to do the same in the Senate. While threatening to revoke the waiver has led to much consternation, actually revoking the waiver will surely lead to years of litigation and regulatory chaos.
A battle between the Trump Administration and California sounds like it’s made for Hollywood, but it’s also the story the administration is using to distract us. Why? Because it’s easier to paint California as a rogue state of pushy progressives than to defend a policy decision that ignores scientific evidence and relies wholly on industry talking points. The rollback is not just an attack on our state, but on the 12 other states that choose to follow California’s more protective standards and all the other states that have the right to choose to follow California standards if they wish, as Colorado is now moving to do. It’s also more than a fight for authority, it’s an attack on our values and a larger strategy from this administration of pushing science and the public interest aside.
To justify this policy, the agencies are twisting themselves in knots and ignoring their own analysisthat show safe, cost-effective technologies exist to continue to improve efficiency, cut emissions, and save consumers money at the pump. They are dragging up tired old arguments that efficiency standards make vehicles less safe, contrary to actual evidence. And the cherry on top: they point out the U.S. is pumping more oil than ever. So the days of needing to conserve energy have passed? Using more oil is not going to make our country stronger or safer, nor is it going to be good for consumers.
Americans like clean cars
Multiple polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans favor clean car standards because no matter what size car or truck they buy, drivers want more efficient, cleaner vehicles. The standards have delivered cleaner cars of every size and class to consumers every year. Additionally, vehicle standards benefit lower income individuals who tend to purchase used cars and for whom gasoline costs are a much larger share of their income.
In the U.S., transportation accounts for about 27 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change – in California it’s nearly 40 percent. The vehicle standards directly curb these carbon emissions. The standards are the most effective climate policy the United States has on the books today and an example of how scientists and industry can work together to create good public policy that protects everyone.
If the standards are rolled back as proposed, the U.S. will pump out an extra 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions and consume 200 billion more gallons of fuel by 2040. If this happens, it will be impossible to achieve our obligations under the Paris climate agreement and significantly damage the planet’s ability to hold global warming to two degrees Celsius. The automakers want a compromise between leaving them alone and a total rollback. But a compromise would mean we significantly veer off the path the country and the planet need to be on to avoid the worst impacts of climate change during our lifetimes.
These rollbacks hurt progress
With the undeniable signs of climate change increasing each season, making consumers use more fossil fuel, even when fuel efficiency technology is available and cost-effective, is at best short-sighted and at worst cynical and destructive.
New cars and trucks aren’t cleaner and more efficient by accident or because of automakers’ goodwill. They are more efficient because forward-looking and scientifically sound public policies require them to be. California and the twelve other states with clean car standards cover more than one third of the new car market. These states have a critical role to play in defending cleaner cars. We must take every legal and legislative step necessary to make sure the Trump administration does not take us backward. But don’t fall for the headlines or the simplistic rhetoric from Washington DC. It’s not just California under attack – it’s science and the public interest that they are targeting.