EPA’s reckless step backward
In a giveaway to industry, the Trump administration eases fuel economy standards for new cars.
But here in the United States, President Trump and his anti-environmental protection sidekick, Scott Pruitt, are determined to head recklessly in the opposite direction. It’s up to California and other environmentally responsible states to stop them.
On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it has abandoned ambitious but much-needed fuel economy rules that required automakers to step up the improvements in their cars’ and SUVs’ mileage and emissions. Adopted under the Obama administration, the regulations were a crucial piece of the national effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow global climate change.
Indeed, the regulations being heedlessly ditched were slated to improve the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks 50% by 2025, to almost 55 miles per gallon. To meet the new standards, automakers were expected to develop and sell more hybrid and electric models, which, over time, would slash oil consumption, smoggy tailpipe pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
But those benefits apparently carried little weight with Pruitt, a stalwart shill for the fossil fuel industry, who claims the Obama administration rushed the analysis of whether the regulations were feasible and set the standards too high. That’s mere pretext, given that Pruitt has used his tenure at the EPA to systematically attack responsible, science- and health-based regulations. Nor, apparently, is it enough that he’s weakened national environmental protections; Pruitt has suggested he may go after California’s essential air quality regulations and climate change program as well.
In order to address the enormous contribution cars and trucks make to California’s unusually severe air-quality problems, the federal Clean Air Act gave the state unique power to adopt vehicle emissions rules that are more stringent than the EPA’s. The federal government can block the state rules only if the EPA deems them inconsistent with the Clean Air Act’s efforts to protect public health or welfare. Thankfully, Gov. Jerry Brown and state leaders have made it clear that California is not rolling back its clean-car rules. Other states can follow California’s lead on tailpipe standards, and a dozen states, representing about one-third of the U.S. auto market, have said they will continue to do so.
That would leave manufacturers with two options. They could go the costly route of making two versions of each vehicle: A more fuel-efficient model for states with California’s standards, and a less fuel-efficient model for the rest of the country. Or they could just comply with California’s rules, which would negate the EPA’s rollback. Or Pruitt and Trump could try to deny California its longstanding power to enact emissions standards, triggering (another) legal battle with the state.
It sure sounds like Pruitt is readying for a war. “Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” he said in a statement. California leaders, already practiced in Trump resistance, are digging in as well.
Pruitt’s efforts are a colossal waste of time and money. Every other government in the industrialized world recognizes that climate change is real and that it will take serious action now to minimize the devastating effects of global warming. The leading world economies also recognize that there is a much-needed shift from fossil fuel vehicles underway, and they are choosing to lead the transition to low- and no-carbon transportation systems.
Even automakers know this. That’s why most of them are already developing and marketing electric and hybrid models to sell around the world. Instead of making progress toward innovation and a cleaner future, Trump and Pruitt have chosen, irresponsibly and cynically, to keep this country guzzling gas and pumping out carbon.