Trump administration takes aim at vehicle emissions standards that save drivers money

Passenger vehicle standards are already reducing carbon emissions.

The Trump administration is considering reversing the nation's greenhouse gas pollution standards for passenger vehicles. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
The Trump administration is considering reversing the nation's greenhouse gas pollution standards for passenger vehicles. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

The Trump administration wants to relax the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution standards for passenger vehicles, the latest in a series of actions by the administration that would undermine the nation’s climate change initiatives.

Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Thursday signed and published a notice asking for comments on the existing rules. In March, President Donald Trump announced he would begin rolling back federal regulations on vehicle carbon pollution.

“The EPA’s previous technical review of the current fuel economy standards shows that the standards are not only well within reach, but are already working,” Sierra Club Legislative Director for Transportation Andrew Linhardt said in a statement Thursday. “A new administration is no reason to shift progress to reverse.”

A new car meeting the government’s 2025 carbon pollution requirements will save the owner nearly $4,000 compared to an average new car under existing standards, because the fuel savings far outweigh the cost of the low-emissions technologies that make the vehicle more efficient, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Passenger cars and light trucks account for about 45 percent of all U.S. oil consumption and more than 20 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards have avoided more than 142 million metric tons of carbon emissions and saved U.S. drivers more than $32 billion in fuel costs just for model years 2012 to 2016, NRDC said in a blog post.

If the standards are kept in place, they would eliminate an estimated 6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution over the life of the vehicles subject to the standards, which is more than a year’s worth of U.S. carbon emissions, the Obama administration explained.

The Trump EPA is reopening the regulatory docket to retrieve “the best available information from the public, such as consumer behavior, feedback on modeling approaches, and assessing advanced fuels technologies,” the agency said in a Thursday press release.

In Thursday’s Federal Register notice, the EPA said it intends to make a final determination regarding the appropriateness of the model year 2022–2025 greenhouse gas standards, “and potentially the model year 2021 greenhouse gas standard,” no later than April 1, 2018. The notice begins a 45-day public comment period on a relaxation of the rules for cars and light trucks.

In 2012, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a part of the Transportation Department, adopted rules known as clean car standards requiring the nation’s car and light trucks to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The standards would double the efficiency of the U.S. fleet compared with vehicles manufactured in 2008.

The EPA also committed to undertake a midterm evaluation of the standards for the later model year cars. That evaluation found that technologies are developing more quickly and at even lower costs than the EPA originally projected, making the standards for the later model years appropriate and even more feasible than was first thought.

In January 2017, the EPA completed its review and issued a final determination confirming that the standards covering model years 2022 to 2025 should remain in place. The decision kept the fuel economy goals at their current level through 2025. This decision came after a technical assessment report, a 30-day comment period, the proposed order, and a second 30-day comment period.

“In spite of the rigorous technical analysis and public input that went into those reviews, EPA and DOT — in a reckless U-turn — announced today that that they will formally reopen the final determination,” the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement Thursday. “That could ultimately lead to radically weakening or revoking the Clean Cars Standards for model years 2022 to 2025.”