In spite of the seemingly endless string of scandals that have been emanating from the Environmental Protection Agency recently, some of the most jaw-dropping news stories in the last few days have been about attacks on America’s clean car standards — a popular program that saves families at the pump and gives us cleaner air. The Trump administration’s attempt to rollback those standards has now spurred a multi-state legal challenge in response.
Under the clean car standards, when you buy a new car you get a model that pollutes less and uses less gas than older models. Using less gas means your new car will save you money — in total, the clean car standards will save Americans more than $1 trillion. That’s likely why more than two-thirds of American voters support the clean car standards, according to a recent poll by the American Lung Association.
The clean car standards are also vital for protecting our health. The transportation sector is now America’s largest contributor of climate pollution. It is also a significant source of the soot and smog-causing pollution that causes asthma attacks and other heart and lung diseases. The American Lung Association and 12 other public health organizations have all underscored the importance of maintaining protective clean cars standards.
Yet, the Trump administration is reportedly determined to roll back these safeguards.
Even some automakers are raising alarms about the administration’s extreme attack. Honda said plainly “we do not support their rollback,” and Ford said, “we support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback.”
That might be because of the success those companies are already developing cars and trucks that meet the standards. For instance, each Ford F-150 truck bought in 2015 uses about 180 fewer gallons of gas a year than earlier models, which saves its owner enough to more than cover a monthly payment each year.
An exhaustive technical review by multiple agencies found extensive evidence that automakers can meet the standards — and at lower prices than were originally predicted. There are already more than 100 car, SUV, and pickup models on the market that meet standards set for 2020 and beyond.
Last month, EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook Understanding the barriers between scientists, the public and the truth Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official MORE unveiled plans to roll back the standards. The latest rumors indicate he plans to go even further, and attack long-standing provisions that allow states to lead on clean cars.
Under the Clean Air Act, states have the authority to put in place stronger limits on tailpipe pollution when federal standards fail to protect their citizens. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia, representing 113 million people and over a third of the automotive market, have exercised this right.
Pruitt just testified to Congress that these states’ clean car standards were not in imminent danger. Then, barely one day later, leaked documents showed the Trump administration’s plans to attack state leadership on clean cars.
Last week, a coalition of 17 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington) and the District of Columbia sued to stop the reckless attempt to undermine the standards.
My organization, the Environmental Defense Fund, fully supports the states’ legal challenge. We also plan to go to court to oppose the administration’s unsupported and unacceptable action against the Clean Car Standards.
We are deeply concerned about what we could lose if Pruitt’s rollback plan is successful. The Clean Car Standards are one of America’s biggest success stories in combating climate change. Our own analysis shows the proposed rollback risks putting two billion tons of additional climate pollution in our air and costing American families $460 billion in savings at the gas pump.
It would also serve no purpose. Americans aren’t asking for more smog, or more climate pollution, or higher gas bills. No one — not even the auto industry — is enthusiastic about this proposed rollback. It’s a plan that creates discord and benefits no one.
That’s why it has grabbed headlines away from Pruitt’s numerous ethical and financial problems. The attack on clean cars is actually the most scandalous thing EPA did last week.
Martha Roberts is a senior attorney at Environmental Defense Fund, a bipartisan nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.