The White House is saying it will reverse the decision by the prior administration to increase fuel economy standards for vehicles — a move that will jeopardize the nation’s effort to keep temperature rises in line with the Paris climate agreement.
President Obama had acted after the 2008 financial bailout of the American auto industry by getting it to agree to increases in fuel economy standards: going from 35.5 miles per gallon to 54.5 miles gallon by 2025, which at the time seemed reasonable given that gas prices were $4 a gallon. But now that those prices have fallen to about $2.75 a gallon, the automakers say that consumers want the gas-guzzling cars, and that hitting the higher targets would cost them $200 billion to achieve over the next decade.
The Trump administration, today, set the standard at 37 miles per gallon, which will reduce the sales of electric cars and those that now achieve greater mileage per gallon. The auto industry, nonetheless, says that it is still committed to bringing those types of vehicles to market. Nearly all have such products now on the market or they plan to do so. Still, Trump’s move is a setback for the climate cause.
“The proposed weakening of fuel economy standards is backtracking on climate policy at exactly the time when we need to take leadership in climate policy and climate change mitigation. This will have catastrophic consequences for both climate and public health,” Neil Donahue said, with Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy.
“To get close to the Paris Agreement’s maximum two-degree increase while leaving fair room for the developing world to grow, carbon dioxide emissions in the developed world need to decrease by about ten percent per year forever starting now,” he added. “Obama-era CAFE standards were one first step in that direction and backing off of them would be counterproductive.”
Just as significantly, the Trump administration said it would move to do away with California’s waiver that allows the state to set its own vehicle emissions standards — an effort that conflicts with its position of advocating for states rights. California has been battling intolerable levels of smog, which necessitates that it have more stringent tailpipe rules. Its ultimate aim is to reduce emissions from vehicles to nominal levels, which would be a product of switching to hybrid or electric cars.
Trump said that he is moving forward with the auto industry’s blessing. In a letter dated February 10, 2018 automakers such as Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler said that the Obama administration rushed through its analysis in mid 2016 that the standards should be 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025. Still, at least 13 car companies have electric vehicles, including Tesla, Volkswagen, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Ford and Toyota.
“We are delivering on President Trump’s promise to the American public that his administration would address and fix the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards,” said Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. “Our proposal aims to strike the right regulatory balance based on the most recent information and create a 50-state solution that will enable more Americans to afford newer, safer vehicles that pollute less.”
But Mary Nichols, chair of California’s Air Resource Board, says that updated national guidelines are based on the expert advice of engineers. They have said the new regulations would only add a few hundred dollars to the price of a new car. The state, along with 16 others, have promised to challenge the initiative in court. Together, they say that they make up 43% of the new auto market.
According to U.S. the Energy Information Administration, electric vehicles are now 1.6% of the overall car market. But that could increase to 6% in 2025. To limit temperature increases to meet the standards set by the Paris climate accord, market penetration needs to reach higher levels — as much as 600 million cars by 2040, say some experts, which won’t happen with the current trajectory.
“In moving to undermine California’s longstanding waiver, the Trump administration makes clear that it is not interested in legal norms or cooperative federalism,” Richard Revesz, Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at NYU School of Law and director of the Institute for Policy Integrity said. “It merely wants to slash and burn legally justified environmental safeguards that bring enormous benefits to the American people.”
“We know that transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” Amy Davidsen, Executive director, North America for The Climate Group added. “This rollback on fuel efficiency standards is, therefore, a huge threat to the planet and a backward step for the U.S. and its auto industry.”
Rolling back fuel efficiency standards will hurt not just the climate cause, but also impede the innovation necessary to bring alternatively-fueled vehicles to market. And if California’s waiver is dismissed, the cause will suffer even more. Today’s decision by Trump is literally a dark cloud over America.
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