WASHINGTON (CN) — Finalizing new fuel-economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks, the Trump administration on Tuesday rolled back a significant Obama-era environmental policy aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions — a move California vowed to fight in court.
The final rule announced Tuesday morning loosens requirements on auto manufactures to increase fuel economy and in turn drop emissions from cars in model years 2021 to 2026. That walks back regulations adopted during the Obama administration as a measure to fight climate change that were meant to encourage car companies to produce electric cars and decrease emissions from their 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.
A calculator on the 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.
The new rule is certain to face legal challenge, as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the state will be prepared once the rule is published to file yet another lawsuit against the Trump administration over emissions standards.
Becerra and a coalition of 23 attorneys general have already filed two high-profile lawsuits to protect the state’s longstanding waiver to set strict emissions requirements for auto manufacturers. California officials credit the waiver with not only improving air quality in its own cities over the decade, but in other states as well. More than a dozen states have adopted California’s clean car and fuel-efficiency standards and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has routinely renewed the waiver over the past 50 years.
For the third time around, Becerra is warning the rollback is not only illegal, but disastrous for air quality, public health and the economy.
“We intend to make sure the backsliding doesn’t reach California’s doorstep and we’ll try to make sure by working with our allies and coalition partners, we keep this from getting to America’s doorstep,” Becerra said in a press conference.
The former congressman said he believes the weakened standards will cause a spike in respiratory illness, premature deaths and ultimately more expensive cars. He also criticized the Trump administration for releasing the rule change during a global pandemic and called the decision “more than tone-deaf.”
“It’s difficult to believe that we’ve now got to divert some of our state attention to trying to tackle an unlawful attempt to change our clean car standards,” Becerra said.
But the Trump administration says the previous standards would have been too costly for both car companies and consumers, and that lowering the requirements will drop prices and encourage people to buy new cars rather than continue to drive older, dirtier models.
“We are delivering on President Trump’s promises to correct the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. “Our final rule puts in place a sensible one national program that strikes the right regulatory balance that protects our environment and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry. This rule supports our economy, and the safety of American families.”
The administration first proposed the rule in 2018 and spurred immediate opposition from environmental groups that warn the move will worsen air quality and hamper U.S. efforts to curb climate change.
Another group expected to sue over the change is the Natural Resources Defense Council. David Doniger, the senior strategic director of the council’s Climate & Clean Energy Program, aid the move will make it “inexpressibly more difficult” to keep at bay the worst impacts of climate change.
“This is a huge impact on climate change,” Doniger said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s the single biggest thing that has ever been done to cut carbon dioxide emissions by the United States, now rolled back.”
Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, released a statement as well. “By crippling clean-car rules, the Trump administration will hurt our climate and help the rest of the world surpass the U.S. in zero-emission automobile technology,” she said. “This rule takes us backward just when we should be moving quickly to take all fossil fuel vehicles off the road to fight the climate crisis.”
The NRDC’s Doniger said any suits would likely invoke the Clean Air Act and fuel-economy laws, alleging that the Trump administration’s justifications for the change “are so divergent from real facts” that the regulation is arbitrary and capricious.