March 30, 2020
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Automakers right to bypass Trump on fuel economy standards

Ben Margot | AP
Ben Margot | AP
In this Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, vehicles make their way westbound on Interstate 80 across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as seen from Treasure Island in San Francisco. Four major automakers have reached a deal with California to increase gas mileage and greenhouse gas emissions standards, bypassing the Trump administration’s plan to freeze standards at 2021 levels.

How do we know that the Trump administration’s efforts to rollback auto emissions standards are counterproductive and unnecessary? Because even some of the world’s largest automakers are rejecting them.

Last year, the administration announced plans to retreat from fuel economy standards put in place by the Obama administration through negotiations between federal regulators, car makers, unions and environmental groups. The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection and Transportation Department argued in 2018 that those standards should be scrapped to improve auto safety and to save lives. That argument was shown to be false.

Now, some automakers are ignoring the rollback and sticking to the stronger proposal. This is a win for the environment and consumers.

Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW have agreed to meet a more stringent standard of an average of 51 miles per gallon by 2026. The agreement is part of a deal with California, which had pledged to reject the lower fuel economy requirements from the Trump administration.

The carmakers, which account for about a third of the U.S. auto market, said the agreement would give them regulatory predictability. This, somewhat paradoxically, is the same argument the Trump administration makes to justify lower fuel economy standards.

“These terms will provide our companies much-needed regulatory certainty by allowing us to meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations while continuing to ensure meaningful greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” the group said in a statement.

Essentially, they have determined that meeting the California standards, which 13 states including Maine follow, is the right move, no matter where the federal standards eventually end up.

This is a strong rebuke of the Trump rollback — and the faulty arguments for why it is necessary.

The Trump administration argued that the lower standards — it proposed to freeze fuel economy at an average of about 37 miles per gallon — would give automakers needed regulatory predictability.

The four carmakers basically turned the argument around and said the California standards would become their nationwide standard, giving them the predictability they sought.

This is a logical argument that we have long supported.

Vehicles are a top source of air pollution; they include particulates, which are responsible for 30,000 premature deaths each year, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Requiring vehicles to go farther on a gallon of gasoline will reduce these and other emissions, including greenhouse gases, which are linked to climate change. It also means that fewer fossil fuels need to be extracted from beneath the earth or sea, another environmental benefit.

American carmakers can meet higher fuel efficiency standards; they are doing so in other countries. For example, American car makers sell cars in Europe that get between 40 and 60 miles per gallon and SUVs that get more than 50 miles per gallon. If they make these vehicles for the European market, they can make them for the U.S. market, too.

Last month, Canada pledged to match its fuel economy standards with California’s, giving U.S. automakers more reason to meet the higher gas mileage requirements. Also in June, 17 automakers, including General Motors and Toyota, urged the Trump administration not to gut the plan to raise fuel economy standards and asked the president to take a more middle of the road approach.

The signs are clear: the U.S. should stay on the road to higher gas mileage in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve the health of tens of thousands of Americans.

 


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