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Fuel Efficiency Rollback Plans Make No Sense - For the Environment or the Economy

placeholder+imagePosted on: 04/05/2018

Although not a total surprise, the EPA’s announcement of plans to roll back auto emissions adopted by the Obama Administration in 2012 just makes no sense.  Not only were President Obama’s plans to require automakers to reach aggressive mileage standards by 2025 great for the environment, but they make economic and political sense as well.  

California and other states representing approximately a third of all US auto sales would likely continue to follow the Obama-era rules, as allowed under the Clean Air Act of 1970, except that Scott Pruitt has conveniently threatened to question this authority.

If the Obama rules stand, the difference is 12 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of affected cars, and 6 billion tons of canon dioxide, according to Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign.

Scott Pruitt’s EPA is claiming that the rules need to be scaled back, as the standards are too expensive for automakers and would make vehicles more expensive.  But honestly, this logic is reactionary and over-simplistic.  For many reasons, the rollback makes no sense.

Why would it be ridiculous to roll back auto emissions standards? 

  • Despite claims from some in the auto industry that the standards were set too high, they are meeting the goals - and without regulation, average fuel economy hadn’t been showing a significant improvement for years
  • Fuel efficient vehicles save consumers money and keep oil in the ground
  • Better emissions standards have been helping to curb American appetites for bigger cars, which are encouraged by recent lower prices at the pump.  The new standards have meant more dealers showing off hybrids and zero emissions vehicles, which would likely not happen without regulations.  Other vehicles are affected too - the average fuel efficiency finally started to ride (though only 5 gallons total in the last decade)
  • Relaxing standards might put the US at a competitive disadvantage with countries that are implementing tougher rules
  • There will be negative air quality and health effects from higher emissions
  • Climate change effects from the transportation sector, already significant, will clearly worsen
  • Legal battles expected by California and others will be lengthy and expensive, and will also result in confusion for auto makers who won’t know what to expect in the long run - and whether they need to plan to produce differently for California

Enthusiasm by automakers just seems misguided.  And this whole effort seems wasteful since increased fuel efficiency is a bipartisan issue for the growing percent of the population who support greater environmental protection efforts.  In other words, these changes are never likely to see the light of day anyway.  

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*Image credit: Michigan's Transportation Research Institute