White House green lights looser standards to drive back climate change

The Trump administration reverses course on planned increases to fuel economy standards...
The Trump administration reverses course on planned increases to fuel economy standards (Source: Gray DC).(GRAYDC)
Published: Sep. 19, 2019 at 5:46 PM EDT
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The Trump administration slams the brakes on planned crack downs for gas guzzling cars and trucks.

In a morning press conference, E.P.A. Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced two shifts.

The first: the agency plans to reduce national fuel efficiency standards for new cars, which are set to rise over the next several years. A final draft of that rule is expected to be unveiled in a few weeks.

And the second, Wheeler said they’re revoking California’s permission to set rules that go beyond the federal government’s.

Thirteen states – including Vermont and New York – peg their rules surrounding how many miles-per-gallon vehicles must get to the Golden State's.

The President, Wheeler, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao argue the change will steer the country in a better direction; that's not a view shared by environmental regulators from the previous administration.

Down the road, the leaders at the E.P.A. and Department of Transportation said loosening fuel efficiency standards will actually drive down air pollution.

Wheeler said California shouldn’t get to dictate national policy.

The former oil lobbyist argues requiring more miles per gallon will mean pricier cars. And, Americans can’t buy more fuel-efficient vehicles if they can’t afford them. "Getting older cars off the road and replacing them with newer cars is going to save lives, going to help the environment, and it’s going to be an overall win for the American public," he said.

In a December 2018 article published in ‘Science’ shortly after the new rules were proposed, economists contended the administration’s predictions are based on faulty assumptions, misusing models some of them wrote. Internal memos from the E.P.A. show at least some staff raised red flags as well.

"We are confident in the analysis," said Wheeler when asked about those concerns.

Former high-level administrators with the EPA said looser standards just don’t add up.

"It’s a huge disservice to our country," said Mustafa Santiago Ali, former head of the EPA Environmental Justice Program.

He argues the change won’t help the car industry here in the U.S. as the White House suggests, but will result in a $400-billion dollar hit because the industry won’t be able to compete in other countries.

While the administration points out the change doesn’t stop states from regulating pollutants that come out of a tail-pipe and impact health, Santiago Ali said it does take away the best tool to do so. "We need to be taking a holistic approach, you can’t separate the various chemicals that are a part of this," he said, "rolling back these things is actually putting people in much greater danger."

The changes to federal policy and revoking California's privilege are scheduled to go into effect in a couple of months. But, it’s a near-certainty that they will be delayed, as California and other states are expected to challenge the plans in court.

Copyright 2019 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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