On Thursday, California along with 18 other US states said they would take the Trump administration to court over its proposal to weaken US fuel efficiency standards brought in by former President Barack Obama.  Union of Concerned Scientists photo.

Administration says rollback of fuel efficiency standards will cut auto prices

On Thursday the Trump administration announced it will rollback Obama-era fuel efficiency standards.  Following the announcement, California along with other US states said they would sue to stop the federal government’s proposal.

The 19 states, along with Washington D.C., argue that the United States has an obligation to protect the environment for future generations.  Critics also argue that the Trump administration’s proposal would also accelerate climate change and increase gasoline prices.

The rollback also revokes California’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions rules which the Trump administration argues will drop vehicle prices.

“The Trump Administration has launched a brazen attack, no matter how it is cloaked, on our nation’s Clean Car Standards,” California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, said in a tweet. He added that California “will use every legal tool at its disposal to defend today’s national standards and reaffirm the facts and science behind them”.

According to Reuters, the states that have adopted California’s emissions standards make up a combined one-third of the US auto market.

While the Trump administration says car makers would benefit from its proposal, the US auto industry is pushing for a negotiated settlement between the states and the federal government to make it clear what kind of cars and trucks it will produce for the American market in the coming years.

The US Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency joint fuel efficiency standards proposal would freeze regulations at 2020 levels through to 2026.  It also calls for dramatically fewer electric vehicles.

The Trump administration says the freeze will increase US oil consumption by about 500,000 barrels per day by the 2030s.  They also argue that because the revised standards will drop the price of new vehicles, consumers will be able to purchase newer, safer cars more often which will result in a drop of traffic fatalities by about 1,000 per year.

Meanwhile, environmental groups scoffed at the assertion about the reduction in crash-related fatalities.  They also argued that the proposal would drive up gasoline prices, increase asthma-inducing smog and ultimately reverse one of the most important steps the federal government has taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“The clean car standards are already saving our families billions at the pump, supporting nearly 300,000 American jobs, and cleaning up dangerous tailpipe pollution,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council told Reuters. “We need to speed up that progress, not slide backward.”

As part of the finalization process, the Trump administration must gather feedback on its proposal, which could take months and may be delayed further by lawsuits.

According to the Transportation Department, the proposal would cut regulatory costs for automakers by $319 billion through 2029.  GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler would each save $60 billion if the Obama administration regulations were rolled back.  Toyota says it would save $34 billion and VW would save $20 billion.

In a statement, GM said it wants to work “with all parties to achieve one national 50-state program.” The company added it is committed to “continually improving fuel economy and our commitment to an all-electric future.”

The Trump administration says boosting US oil consumption by 2 to 3 per cent over forecast levels would have minimal impact on the environment and only boost global average temperature by “3/1000th of a degree Celsius by 2100”.

For decades, California has had the authority to regulate vehicle emissions.  The Trump administration is challenging that right which has allowed the most populous and prosperous US state to fight air pollution, particularly in Los Angeles.

In May, 17 states, including California, filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s April decision to declare current US vehicle emissions targets “not appropriate”.

California’s zero emission vehicle rules which have been adopted by nine other states are “technologically infeasible”, according to the Trump government.

“California will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible,” Reuters reports Governor Edmund Brown said in a statement.

The proposed freeze would also cut $3 billion in estimated fines for carmakers who do not meet efficiency standards.  It does not specify which automakers could avoid fines.
Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said on Wednesday that he would be pleased if the auto industry and states could come to an agreement.

Assistant EPA administrator, Bill Wehrum said federal and California officials will soon meet to discuss the proposal.  He added “All of us want one national program. We are going to try to work it out.”