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Experts Oppose EPA's Proposal to Rollback Clean Car Standards

Jon Wong  Roadshow

The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) - the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks (SAFE Vehicles Rule) - aims to "give the American people greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles that are cleaner for the environment", the agencies say in a press release. "The administration has again put a target on California's back and they have chosen to protect pollution over people".

An analysis by the Trump Administration, published jointly by the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSB), estimates that halting fuel efficiency targets at 2020 levels could save $500 billion in "societal costs", avoid thousands of highway fatalities, and save Americans approximately $2,340 on the cost of each new auto. Their proposed rule calls for replacing an aggressive 2012 rule for increasing fuel efficiency in cars and light trucks from 2022 through 2025.

A provision in the Clean Air Act allowed California to set higher fuel standards.

'For 48 years-since one of my heroes, then-governor Ronald Reagan, requested it-California has had a waiver from the federal government to clean our own air, ' the former governor tweeted on Thursday.

In hopes of avoiding that end, William Wehrum, the top clean air official at the EPA, said he still would like to find a way to broker a deal with California over the rule before it is finalized, probably this year or early next year. No suit would likely be filed, however, until at least after the 60 day public comment period on the rule proposal expires.

Due to this, the Trump Administration has announced a plan to freeze fuel efficiency requirements through 2026. "The Trump administration should preserve the current standards or risk encouraging American automakers to build the cars of the past in an increasingly electric future", she writes in a commentary distributed by Reuters.

And that's just talking about taking weight off cars, not even mentioning the costs involved with engine efficiency, aerodynamics, fuel, tires, components, and other things used to make cars more fuel efficient. Requiring auto makers to reach ever-increasing standards would now be too expensive, putting the cost of vehicles increasingly out of reach. The proposal indicates that retaining the MY 2020 standards will save over 500 billion dollars in societal costs and reduce highway fatalities by 12,700 lives over the lifetimes of vehicles through MY 2029. The administration argues that should make new cars cheaper, and get newer, safer cars on the roads quicker as a result.

But Moore says consumers will have plenty of choices. "The initiative was said to save "$1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce USA oil consumption by 12 billion barrels", in average fuel savings over the lifetime of a vehicle, according to a White House press release.

Heidi King, deputy administrator of the NHTSA called the 2012 goals "unrealistic".

General Motors said in a statement, "We are encouraged the proposal includes provisions that would recognize the environmental benefits of new technology developments such as the increased use of electric vehicles, autonomous and related technologies". Twelve other states have adopted California's efficiency standards for gas-powered vehicles, while nine others have similar policies for zero-emission vehicles.

Some argue fuel-economy laws are necessary to fight global warming, but they do almost nothing to address the alleged dangers of climate change. The state of California also regulates tailpipe emissions in its state, and more than a dozen other states follow its lead. Losing the right to self-regulation takes away the consistency state regulators want to achieve and puts California at the mercy of each administration that could revisit the rules as it wishes.

Healey, the attorney general for MA, said: "This absolutely has to be one of the most harmful and dumbest actions the EPA has taken".

David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, was dismayed by the proposed rollback, asking, "How can we justify rolling back the most effective tool we have to take on global warming?"