Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers blasted the Trump administration’s Tuesday announcement that it would roll back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, saying that it will worsen air quality and harm public health.
The new standards require automakers to produce a fleet averaging 40 mpg by 2026, rather than the previous requirement under the Obama administration to reach 55 mpg by 2025.
Already, environmental groups have vowed to challenge a rule they see as one of the major climate efforts of the previous administration.
“The Trump administration is once again putting oil industry profits ahead of the American people. Weakening clean car standards will dramatically increase air pollution and harm public health,” Earthjustice California staff attorney Paul Cort said in a statement.
“We’ll see the Trump administration in court,” he said.
The Trump administration has argued that lowering the standards will allow automakers to make less-expensive cars, which they say will save lives and lower prices as consumers upgrade to new vehicles with better safety features.
“Millions of new vehicles will now be more affordable to consumers, more will be sold, and this will be good for the economy as well. I think also reflects the department's No. 1 priority, which is making cleaner, safer vehicles that are more affordable for Americans,” Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoMnuchin, Pompeo mulled plan to remove Trump after Jan. 6: book Saluting FOIA on its birthday House passes bill to strengthen authority of federal watchdogs MORE told reporters when announcing the rule.
But Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems seek to preserve climate provisions Democrats wrangle to keep climate priorities in spending bill Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan MORE (D-Del.) sees a regulation that “will not deliver safer, more affordable and environmentally-friendly vehicles for American consumers. In fact, it does the exact opposite, and fails to provide any demonstrable benefit to American consumers, industry or the environment whatsoever.”
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune told reporters the Trump policy was both the administration's biggest reversal on climate action as well as the “biggest payout to the oil industry that we’ve seen so far.”
“The clean car standards are the best policies that we have on the books to fight the climate crisis,” he said. “They protect public health, they save communities money at the pump.”
The American Lung Association also raised concerns about the effect the changes could have on the health of vulnerable populations.
“Cleaner, more efficient vehicles and electric vehicles are key to safeguarding our most vulnerable, including children, older adults and people living with chronic diseases, who will suffer the impacts of climate change the most,” said the association’s president and CEO, Harold P. Wimmer, in a statement.
“Failing to act on climate change now will have major consequences for our health today and for future generations,” Wimmer said.
Maya Golden-Krasner, the Center for Biological Diversity’s climate deputy director and senior attorney, similarly said in a statement that the rollback will cause people to “choke on smog.”
“It’s shameful that Trump officials pushed this through during a viral pandemic that preys on people with asthma and other health problems linked to dirty air,” she said.
Automakers have had a complicated relationship with both the Trump and Obama administration as they pursue changes to mileage standards.
Big automakers had argued the Obama-era standards were too ambitious, leaving them at risk of being unable to meet the ultimate 55 mpg fleet-wide goal.
But the figures from the Trump administration fall below what the industry says it can achieve.
The Trump rule requires 1.5 percent year-over-year improvements in mileage, compared to 5 percent under the Obama administration. The auto industry has said it could improve fuel efficiency by 2.4 percent each year even without regulation.
“The auto industry has consistently called for year-over-year fuel economy and greenhouse gas improvements that also recognize that the standards originally developed almost a decade ago are no longer appropriate in light of shifting market conditions and consumer preferences,” the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the auto industry trade group, said in a statement, nodding to interest in SUVs.
“The greatest opportunity for environmental benefits will happen as we look to longer-term policies beyond 2026.”
But in the short term, some worry lower standards will hurt, rather than help, the struggling industry.
Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The omicron threat and Biden's plan to beat it Dearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized With Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps MORE (D-Mich.) said that the changes would spur less innovation and make the U.S. less competitive in the global marketplace.
“Around the world, countries are setting aggressive standards,” Dingell said in a call with reporters. “We have to stay at the forefront of innovation technology that’s going to help us transition to the next generation of more fuel-efficient vehicles.”
Those less aggressive standards could also make the rule more vulnerable to legal challenge.
The law requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which helped write the rule, to set the maximum standard that’s feasible for automakers.
“Under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, NHTSA’s charge is to conserve energy and reduce fuel consumption, and the rollback does the opposite,” said Elaine Meckenstock, a deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice.
Republicans, meanwhile, praised the effort as a cost-saving measure for consumers.
“The old rule would limit consumer choice and increase the cost of purchasing a vehicle. Washington must consider what is best for the whole country. The government shouldn’t make rules that work in cities but not in rural communities,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to omicron variant Barrasso calls Biden's agenda 'Alice in Wonderland' logic: 'He's the Mad Hatter' MORE (R-Wyo.) said in a statement.
Similarly, in a joint statement Reps. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE (R-Ore.), John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusDavis passes on bid for governor in Illinois, running for reelection to House GOP ekes out win in return of Congressional Baseball Game Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm MORE (R-Ill.) and Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersDemocrats to target Section 230 in Haugen hearing Washington redistricting panel reaches late agreement on new lines McMorris Rodgers worried broadband funding will miss mark without new maps MORE (R-Wash.) praised the rule as striking “the right balance between reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions and lowering the cost of new vehicles for consumers.”