American carmakers sabotage pledges on climate standards

American carmakers sabotage pledges on climate standards
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Search the Washington Auto Show website to see what electric vehicles will be on display this week, and you’ll find an assortment of German and Japanese plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles. And from U.S. manufacturers? Chevrolet’s Bolt and Volt and Chrysler’s Pacifica plug-in hybrid. That’s it.

Given the recent cascade of announcements from automakers seeking to burnish their green bona fides by pledging to spend billions on electric vehicles, how is it that a major auto show held in our nation’s capital features just two U.S. electric vehicles from a single U.S. manufacturer?

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Because the public rhetoric from U.S. automakers on electric vehicles doesn’t match up with their actions behind the scenes. Automakers in the United States are collaborating with the Trump administration to sabotage the same clean car and fuel-efficiency standards that they endorsed just a few years ago. By doing so, they are making a reckless u-turn that will hurt consumers, the environment, and ultimately their own competitiveness.

Two days after the 2016 election, the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, which represents 12 major car companies that operate in the United States, including Ford and GM, sent a letter to president-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values MORE’s transition team urging the incoming administration to reconsider the standards, which would improve average new car fuel efficiency to 54 miles per gallon.

In the letter, the industry made fact-starved assertions about the cost of the standards and the technical challenges of compliance, claims that aren’t supported by the best independent analyses. A 2016 technical assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the California Air Resources Board showed that automakers already were meeting the Obama-era standards faster and more affordably than predicted.

Around the world, in fact, more forward-thinking automakers and countries are pledging to be all-electric within the next dozen years. The days of the internal combustion engine clearly are numbered. Nonetheless, employing the time horizon of fruit flies, the U.S. auto industry refuses to look beyond its short-term profits. Automakers are doing this for one reason only: They know they can make more money by selling gas-guzzling vehicles, and they want to grab all they can, right now.

They certainly aren’t doing it to satisfy their customers because the standards they previously endorsed are wildly popular with consumers. It’s easy to see why. Once enacted, these standards would save hundreds of billions of dollars at the gas pump while preventing six billion tons of dangerous climate pollution. The fuel-cost savings alone would more than make up for the modest cost of improving fuel efficiency. Overall, these standards would save thousands of dollars for every automobile purchaser. Little wonder, then, that polls show 95 percent of Americans want automakers to improve fuel efficiency.

But in the Trump administration, the auto industry has found an enthusiastic ally in its quest to undermine fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards. EPA administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittChristie says Trump hired 'riffraff' in new book Meet 3 women who stood up to Trump to protect the American people — and lost their jobs Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans MORE has met repeatedly with auto executives, and in August he announced plans to reopen the midterm review of clean-car and fuel-efficiency standards, with the likely intention of rolling them back. By doing so, Pruitt, a confirmed climate denier, is taking aim at the largest federal climate action program on the books, at the expense of the American people and public health.

But for Pruitt, at least, this action is consistent with a long and deeply held belief in promoting the interests of corporate polluters at all costs. He at least can’t be charged with the same degree of hypocrisy as the auto companies, which are seeking to undermine efficiency and emissions standards that they previously embraced. In 2011, they joined climate and labor groups to support President Obama’s landmark clean car standards.

For no automaker is that hypocrisy more glaring than Ford Motor Company. Its executive chairman, Bill Ford, Jr., is described on the company’s website as a “lifelong environmentalist.” He has stated that “climate change is real and a critical threat, and we will continue to work with leaders around the world in support of ambitious global greenhouse gas reduction targets.” Can this really be the same executive whose company is lobbying the Trump administration and Congress to weaken clean car standards?

We can’t afford to let these auto companies drag us backward to the days of gas guzzlers, eye-popping costs to fill the tank, poisonous air and unfettered carbon pollution. That’s why Public Citizen and the Sierra Club have launched a campaign with Greenpeace, Environment America and Safe Climate Campaign to demand that Ford and other automakers fulfill their promises to save consumers money, help curb climate change, protect public health, and advance innovation.

The vehicle search page for the Washington Auto Show also has this disclaimer: “This page does not show all of the vehicles that will be at the Washington Auto Show.” It’s probably too late to fill the convention center with electric vehicles, but it’s not too late for the American people to send a message to Ford and the rest of the industry: Drive us forward to a cleaner, better future.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.

Michael Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club.