President Donald Trump has long called climate change “ a hoax,” which he has blamed mostly on China. Behind the scenes, his administration isn’t denying climate change. Instead, it appears to have adopted the attitude that the planet is going to get hot and miserable no matter what, so why do anything about it, especially if doing something may mean harming U.S. businesses.
That was the message buried in the administration’s justification for freezing vehicle fuel economy standards. The National Highway Safety Administration essentially concluded that the global impact would be essentially the same whether the U.S. maintains the current standards put in place by the Obama administration or weakened those standards, so it advocated for weakening them.
That is a dire view. We disagree that Americans should just accept that a rapidly warming and dangerous plant is inevitable.
In August, the Trump administration took steps to weaken vehicle fuel economy standards and moved to revoke California’s authority to set standards that are higher than federal requirements. Thirteen states, including Maine, follow the higher California standards.
The administration has proposed to freeze increases in fuel economy standards in 2021. Under current rules — which were negotiated with the auto industry, unions and environmental groups — a typical car would need to go 36 miles on a gallon of gas by 2025, about 10 miles per gallon more than this year’s requirement. Standards are lower for trucks.
The Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency argued then that a lower standard will save lives.
The life-saving claims were false. Memos from scientists at the EPA warned that the safety analysis, done by the Transportation Department, had many flaws. For one, its projections for how many more miles people would drive if cars were more fuel efficient were “wildly inflated,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Its claims that millions of old cars would remain on the road were also wrong, the EPA warned.
The “proposed standards are detrimental to safety, rather than beneficial,” William Charmley, director of the assessments and standards division of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality, said in a June 18 interagency email, the Associated Press reported.
No matter what rationale it used, the bottom line appears to be that because reducing emissions from passenger cars and lights trucks would have a minimal impact, reductions in carbon emissions from other U.S. sectors, and from the rest of the world, would be necessary to stop the world from warming dramatically by 2100, the administration wrote.
Therefore, the administration concluded that further reducing vehicle emissions was essentially useless.
More alarming, the administration built this assumption on accepted international modeling that predicts mean global temperatures will rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, the Washington Post reported. Such a temperature increase would dramatically raise sea levels, swamping low-lying areas and forcing populations to move inland. Deadly heat waves would spread across the world, along with raging wildfires.
Progress toward reducing carbon emissions has been difficult for sure, especially as economies improve in developing countries. But giving up, which is what the administration is essentially calling for, is a horrid option.
The solution, in fact, is also buried in the NHTSA document. Stopping the upward trend in carbon emissions would “require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today’s levels, and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to substantially move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically practicable,” it reads.
There are already more than 3 million vehicles on the road that don’t require fossil fuels. That’s a small number, but a third more than just the year before. The transition away from fossil fuels could be accelerated with better support for research and innovation — and regulations that diminish demand for those fuels.
The Trump administration has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, so its hostility to regulations that may cost the industry money is not surprising. However, deciding that climate change is happening, so Americans don’t need to do anything to ameliorate it, is shocking and completely irresponsible.
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