Why rolling back fuel efficiency won’t benefit American drivers
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The United States established strong standards, five years ago this month, for the fuel efficiency and emissions of new cars and trucks under a historic agreement with automakers. Industry came together with federal and state officials, labor, environmental groups, consumer organizations and others to cut pollution and nearly double the fuel efficiency of new vehicles.

However, as we approach this anniversary, the current administration is taking steps to undo this achievement and roll back standards that would save consumers thousands of dollars.

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The Environmental Protection Agency had planned to reopen and expand a review of greenhouse gas standards for vehicle model years 2022-2025. Then EPA announced the agency would also include 2021 vechile models in this evaluation. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took a similar step.

 

By re-opening the midterm review, less than a year after a thorough, multi-year assessment had been completed, EPA is bringing back questions that have already been asked and answered.

That review determined that the standards were reasonable and achievable through 2025 — and at a lower cost than the agency had previously estimated. Duplicating this process is costly and unnecessary. And by expanding the review to include vehicles for model year 2021, the agency threatens to erode the standards beyond the original agreement.

Since the last assessment was completed in January, automakers have announced even more aggressive plans around fuel saving technology.

Mazda announced a breakthrough in high-compression-ratio engine technology that would dramatically boost engine efficiency. Volvo announced that all models starting in 2019 would either be a hybrid or fully electric. And Ford just announced that its best-selling F-150 would boost both fuel economy and towing capacity for the 2018 model. These moves show automakers have the high-tech tools necessary to meet even stronger targets.

Consumers would be the biggest beneficiary of better technology, according to our analysis at Consumers Union and other independent analyses. For vehicles meeting the 2025 standards, consumers would see net savings of $3,200 per car and $4,800 per truck over the life of their vehicle. And that’s with gas prices remaining at or near today’s low levels.

Better fuel economy also means greater choices for consumers in every vehicle class — whether it’s a family that needs a car, crossover or SUV or a small business owner in need of a pickup truck — Americans can choose the right vehicle for them, without breaking their budget to fill up the tank.

Consumers Union surveys have shown that consumers truly care about fuel efficiency. Our latest one, released in June, found that nearly every American — about nine in 10 — wants automakers to improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. 

With Americans gravitating toward crossovers, trucks and SUVs in recent years, it is also significant that 80 percent of Americans want to see efficiencyimprovements in larger vehicles. Consumers not only want their SUVs and crossovers, they want to be able to afford to drive them too.

Consumers are even willing to pay more for more efficient vehicles if they recoup the costs in five years. The good news is that most buyers won’t have to wait that long. For the vast majority of consumers who finance or lease vehicles, the savings will show up in the first month as savings from lower spending on gas would outweigh the cost of the technology each month. 

The bottom line is that the standards benefit consumers, and the auto industry has shown that it can meet and exceed the targets. Any effort to roll back thestandards would hurt consumers, who would bear the burden of higher spending and fewer choices. As EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration go through their efforts, they should leave 2021 off the table and must conduct a fair, transparent assessment that includes the voices of consumers. If progress toward cleaner, more efficient vehicles is put in reverse, oil companies may increase their revenues, but consumers are the ones who will bear the financial burden.

Shannon Baker-Branstetter is the policy counsel for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumers Reports.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.