Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns

Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns
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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.  

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“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 Lan ChaoTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Bottom line Democrats to probe Trump's replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog MORE told reporters when announcing the rule.

But Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperMail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump threatens coronavirus funds for states easing voting 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.”

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“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 Dingell18 states fight conservative think tank effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards Pelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues 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. 

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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 BarrassoIRS proposes guidance for expanded carbon capture tax credit No better time to modernize America's energy infrastructure EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 MORE (R-Wyo.) said in a statement.

Similarly, in a joint statement Reps. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenBipartisan senators call for investigation of TikTok's child privacy policies Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns Top Commerce Republicans grill TikTok parent company MORE (R-Ore.), John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusBottom line Bottom Line Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic MORE (R-Ill.) and Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersBipartisan senators call for investigation of TikTok's child privacy policies Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns Top Commerce Republicans grill TikTok parent company 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.”