By Roland Hwang, Natural Resources Defense Council
Another week, another attack on our health by the Trump Administration.
The latest salvo from President Trump comes in the form of a more detailed budget proposal, first reported by The Washington Post, that outlines major cuts to EPA’s ability to test cars to ensure they actually meet pollution standards. Trump is essentially proposing to defund the Office of Transportation and Air Quality, and the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, MI which operates a state-of-the-art testing facility.
If anything, EPA’s testing budget should be increased. Remember that whole Volkswagen emission cheating catastrophe? A major automaker selling nearly 600,000 cars in the U.S. that were illegally pumping dangerous nitrogen oxides into our air, threatening kids with asthma among other vulnerable citizens? If President Trump gets his way, crimes like that are more likely to happen undetected and without recourse. In fact, it was the work done in Ann Arbor that identified similar violations by Fiat-Chrysler, after EPA stepped up its oversight of diesel engines in the wake of the VW case.
Defunding oversight and eliminating jobs
The proposed budget cuts are part of a broad, unprecedented assault on EPA’s budget by President Trump. By proposing to cut the agency’s budget by 31%, it is proposing to eliminate funding for a host of programs and offices that protect us from pollution. The budget calls for eliminating 168 out of the 304 full-time jobs in the department that tests cars, engines and fuels to make sure they are meeting pollution standards. These are also the workers that are checking to make sure the sticker on your car is accurately stating fuel economy.
But putting people out of work isn’t enough for President Trump – he has also proposed eliminating $48 million in federal funding for EPA’s work to certify and test vehicles. According to Reuters, this represents a 99% cut in federal funds for ensuring vehicles meet pollution standards.
Fox guarding the hen house
In a bizarre but predictable twist, President Trump’s budget states that it will recoup these costs by increasing fees paid by automakers to conduct the testing. If this Administration has proved anything yet, it has proved that its allegiances lie with industry over the public’s health. It took less than two months for the industry to convince Trump to begin the process of weakening fuel efficiency standards that reduce pollution and save us money at the pump. It goes to follow that it won’t take too much convincing by the automakers to stop or minimize this fee increase, thereby ensuring that the already underfunded air pollution oversight program is not fully staffed.
We won’t be fooled by the Trump Administration’s funding proposal, which taken at first glance, may look like a way to reduce the burden on taxpayers. In reality, this proposal simply shifts costs to new car buyers and forces the EPA to negotiate with automakers to fund more oversight on their industry. This model is flawed and deeply concerning. It is important that vehicle certifications go through a rigorous and independent process to ensure that cars are meeting health standards.
Once again, the task of governing conflicts with grand proposals and blustery statements from the Administration. Unfortunately, there are serious consequences to all of this. If Congress doesn’t stand up and kill this dangerous funding proposal, our health and economic wellbeing are under serious threat. That’s why it’s important that all of us stand up and speak out against the latest attack on our health and environment.