Trump Administration Attacks Clean Car Standards

Photo by Aleksejs Bergmanis from Pexels

The clean vehicle revolution has met its resistance.

Last week, the Trump administration announced its intention to suspend vehicle anti-pollution and fuel-efficiency standards, a clear strike on Obama-era climate change mitigation initiatives.

Ironically named The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, the proposal would eliminate incentives for automakers to build cleaner cars, including hybrid and electric vehicles. The SAFE Vehicles Rule would also strike down an important 2012 mandate that holds automakers accountable for improving the average fuel economy of their passenger vehicles to 54 miles per gallon by 2025.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has propped itself as a champion of road safety. In a statement titled “Make Cars Great Again,” Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler and Department of Transportation secretary Elaine Chao argued that current passenger vehicle standards prioritize fuel efficiency over safety obligations. The provisions of the SAFE Rule would seek to eliminate the supposed challenges that stringent fuel efficiency standards pose for further developing safer vehicles. The statement claims that this policy revamp would “give consumers greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles, while continuing to protect the environment.”

Many have rightfully raised their eyebrows. The conclusion that fuel efficiency trades off with safety clashes with previous findings that suggest nationwide fuel-economy improvements would actually significantly decrease auto-related casualties.

But road safety isn’t the only sacrifice. Contrary to its name, the SAFE Vehicle Rule is neither affordable nor fuel-efficient. Though the fuel-efficiency standard rollback may see meager returns immediately (a result of fuel-inefficient cars being cheaper to build), the economic costs quickly outweigh gains as the price of fuel skyrockets over time. So, in its current state, SAFE is expected to cost American consumers an outrageous $450 billion by 2050. And this is a conservative estimate. This number doesn’t include the severe environmental costs to follow: climate experts anticipate an increase in emissions by 11% through 2035 as a result of SAFE — a significant figure considering that major city and state governments are currently suing Big Oil for the mounting expense of protecting residents, businesses, and infrastructure from emissions-driven climate change.

Speaking of state governments, the rule would also revoke the right of individual states to set stricter pollution standards than those of the federal government. This legal waiver was first granted to California in the 1970 Clean Air Act, setting a precedent now followed by many other states. So far, 19 attorneys from these states are publicly planning to sue the federal government if SAFE is finalized.

While the administration met expected uproar from environmentalists, consumer groups, and California, the threat of legal retaliation by nineteen individual states has made the auto industry worried that SAFE goes too far. Lawsuits by the states could entangle automakers in regulatory uncertainty for years, and if the states prevail, two auto markets would emerge — a regulatory and logistical nightmare scenario.

Clever wordplay can’t help the Trump administration now: the passage of the SAFE Vehicles Rule would certainly spell disaster for the environment, for consumers, and for the U.S. economy. The only beneficiary would be the oil industry, standing to sell more gasoline and finding new comfort in a more secure market.

You can speak out against the Trump administration’s attack on safer and cleaner vehicles by calling and writing to your Congress members and by posting on social media with the hashtag #CleanerCars. Representing America’s consumers, business leaders, and shareholders, we can fight for the advancement of green vehicles together.

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