California Leads Charge Against Fuel Economy Rollback

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

(CN) — Led by California, 24 states and several cities on Wednesday challenged the Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Car Standards, the 2010 rule that was supposed to guide fuel efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas emissions reduction through 2026.

As an alternative, the Trump administration finalized the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles (SAFE) standards on March 31, which opponents say was an unnecessary U-turn from Obama-era policies that balanced economic production with environmental sustainability.

“These new rules would leave us with some of the weakest emissions standards in the world,” said California Attorney General Becerra in a tele-press conference.

“Just read the text of the rule and you will discover that it is a job-killer and public health hazard,” added Becerra, who estimates the new rules eliminate more than 13,000 auto industry jobs nationwide.“It will increase costs to consumers and allow the emission of dangerous pollutants that directly threaten the health of our families.”

The SAFE rules affect passenger cars and light trucks manufactured from 2021 through 2026. Under SAFE, critics worry new vehicles will produce more greenhouse gas emissions and use more fuel, making them costlier to both consumer pockets and public health.

The original Clean Car Standards required automakers to improve fuel economy by 5% annually, a standard the new SAFE rule relaxes to 1.5%. Additionally, SAFE removes requirement put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by vehicles.

Under the new rule, the administration projects industry-average fuel economy will end up at just more than 40 miles per gallon, compared with 46.7 under the Obama regulations. That amounts to the production of between 867 million and 923 million more metric tons of carbon dioxide, as compared with current estimates.

calculator on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website likens the low end of that projection to what 223 coal-fired power plants emit in one year, or the yearly energy use of 100 million homes.

A 2017 midterm evaluation by the EPA found the Obama-era rules were useful and needed no changes.

In separate petitions for review of the rule changes, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated the Clean Car Standards saved drivers $90 billion in gas and described the rules as “the single largest action the federal government has taken to address climate change.”

The council is joined by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others.

“The Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Car Standards will hurt Americans, increase harmful pollution, cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, and cost consumers billions of dollars at the gas pump,” said Environmental Defense Fund lead attorney Peter Zalzal in a statement. “The rollback is deeply and fundamentally flawed, it is inconsistent with the agencies’ legal duty to reduce harmful pollution and conserve fuel, and we look forward to vigorously challenging it in court.”

In its defense, the Trump administration described the previous standards as costly for both car companies and consumers, and that lowering the requirements would drop prices, encouraging people to buy new cars rather than continue to drive older, dirtier models.

While the EPA declined to comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson said “as finalized, the SAFE provides a sensible, single national program that strikes the right regulatory balance, protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry, while supporting our economy and the safety of American families.”

Attorney General Becerra, who has sued the Trump administration more than 80 times, also leads the lawsuit to defend the Golden State’s own greenhouse gas and zero emissions standards from the Trump chopping block. More than a dozen states have adopted California’s clean car and fuel-efficiency standards and over the past 50 years the EPA has routinely renewed the waiver that allows the state to set stricter emissions requirements.

In addition to EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, the two-page petition by the states names Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Claims include violations of the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. 

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