Former EPA administrator: Don’t reverse clean car standards

Everyone’s talking about the Trump administration’s plan to repeal the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. They should be. However, another alarming rollback and important anniversary are speeding by unnoticed. 

Oct. 15th was the 5th anniversary of the U.S. clean car standards. They’re cutting tailpipe pollution, boosting fuel efficiency in cars, saving families at the pump and helping combat the climate change that is making extreme weather like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria more destructive. 

{mosads}They’re also under siege. President Trump and his EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, want to block these common sense health protections. It’s a mistake we need to stop.


Finalized in 2012 and reviewed in 2016, the clean car standards require automakers to cut tailpipe pollution, specifically the carbon pollution that fuels climate change, and improve gas mileage across their fleets. 

Put simply, the standards are working. American drivers have already saved $47 billion at the pump. Automakers are meeting the standards faster and more affordably than expected, while reaching record-high sales. And nearly 300,000 American workers across 48 states are building clean car technologies. 

Plus, the clean car standards are popular. According to a Consumers Union poll, nearly nine in 10 consumers want automakers to continue to improve fuel efficiency. Even residents in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri — where the auto industry has a large footprint — strongly support keeping the current clean car standards. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise. We’ve successfully cut tailpipe pollution before. Look at leaded gasoline. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that stunts childhood development, including IQ, and contributes to premature death in adults. And for decades, cars would pump toxic plumes of it into neighborhoods nationwide.

So in the 1980s, heeding health experts, EPA moved to phase out leaded gasoline. It wasn’t easy. For decades, oil executives and those who profited from lead pollution said the sky would fall. They claimed the EPA’s plan would increase gasoline prices, damage engines and threaten America’s energy supply. 

They were wrong. As EPA administrator under President Bill Clinton, I was proud to shepherd that tailpipe pollution standard to the finish line. And the sky didn’t fall. Instead, levels of lead in the air fell — by more than 93 percent by 2009; so did blood lead levels in children, by 98 percent by 2005. And in a single year, net benefits for the U.S. amounted to more than $150 billion. 

Again and again, when the U.S. sets an environmental standard, naysayers warn of falling skies, big costs and economic burdens. And their pessimism always proves wrong.

Why? When you bet against American ingenuity, you lose. 

By working to end the clean car standards, the Trump administration is doing just that. They’re betting against American ingenuity, with no faith in the innovation we can create to achieve great things. 

They’re wrong. The clean car standards are working, they’re popular, and they’re important. 

As Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico excavate their lives from hurricane debris, we can’t go backward. As wildfires scorch across Montana and California, we can’t go backward. As 24 million Americans — including 6 million children — face more asthma attacks from climate change, we can’t go backward. As sea levels rise higher, temperatures warm faster, disease-carrying mosquitos reach farther, we can’t go backward.

The American people don’t want to go backward either. Instead, Americans want cleaner, better, safer cars and the administration should listen. Recently 200,000 Americans submitted comments to the EPA in defense of the clean car standards.

We’re right to raise alarms about the administration’s attack on the lifesaving Clean Power Plan. Yet, we can’t forget the clean car standards. Five years, billions of dollars saved, hundreds of thousands of jobs created, the clean car standards are boosting fuel efficiency and cutting harmful carbon pollution. Saving money and the climate is worth celebrating. And importantly, it’s worth defending.

Carol M. Browner served as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration (1993 to 2001).

Tags Bill Clinton Carol M. Browner clean car standards Clean Power Plan EPA Scott Pruitt

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