WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that his administration is revoking California’s authority to set auto mileage standards stricter federal one, a move that critics including Maine Gov. Janet Mills said would result in more planet-warming pollution.
In a tweet, Trump said his action would result in less expensive, safer cars. He also predicted Americans would purchase more new cars, which would result in cleaner air as older models are taken off the roads.
“Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business,” Trump tweeted.
U.S. automakers contend without year-over-year increases in fuel efficiency that align with global market realities their vehicles could be less competitive. Most of the industry favors increases in standards that are lower than the Obama-era requirements, contending consumers are buying less-efficient SUVs and trucks instead of more efficient cars.
California’s stricter fuel-efficiency standards have been adopted by more than a dozen other states, including Maine. Top officials in those states and environmental groups pledged legal action on Wednesday to stop the rollback.
“With one of the highest asthma rates in the nation, this action will only hurt the health and well-being of Maine people, hinder our efforts to fight climate change, and impede the significant economic, environmental, and health benefits of cleaner vehicles,” Mills, a Democrat, said in a statement.
It’s not clear yet what the Trump administration will propose as its final fuel-efficiency rules, but in the past it has favored freezing Obama-era mileage standards at 2021 levels. Under the Obama administration requirements, the fleet of new vehicles would have to average 30 mpg in real-world driving by 2021, rising to 36 mpg in 2025. Currently the standard is 26 mpg.
Under Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency contends that freezing the fuel economy standards will reduce the average sticker price of new vehicles by about $2,700 by 2025, though that predicted savings is disputed by environmental groups and is more than double the EPA estimates from the prior administration.
Trump’s tweet does not address the money consumers would save at the gas pump if cars got better mileage. A study released by Consumer Reports in August found that the owner of a 2026 vehicle will pay over $3,300 more for gasoline during the life of a vehicle if the standards are frozen at 2021 levels.
Trump’s claim that his proposal would result in a cleaner environment is contrary to his own administration’s estimate that by freezing economy standards U.S. fuel consumption would increase by about 500,000 barrels per day, a 2 percent to 3 percent increase. Environmental groups predict even more fuel consumed, resulting in higher pollution.
The administration argues that lower-cost vehicles would allow more people to buy new ones that are safer, cutting roadway deaths by 12,700 lives through the 2029 model year. But Consumer Reports says any safety impact from changes in gas mileage standards is small and won’t vary much from zero.
California’s authority to set its own, tougher emissions standards goes back to a waiver issued by Congress during passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. The state has long pushed automakers to adopt more fuel-efficient passenger vehicles that emit less pollution.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the Trump administration’s action will hurt both U.S. automakers and American families. He said California would fight the administration in federal court. Mills, a former Maine attorney general, said she also believed it was illegal.
“You have no basis and no authority to pull this waiver,” Becerra, a Democrat, said in a statement, referring to Trump. “We’re ready to fight for a future that you seem unable to comprehend.”
Trump’s Justice Department recently opened an antitrust investigation into a deal between California and four major automakers for tougher pollution and related mileage requirements than those sought by the Trump administration.
The deal struck in July between California and four of the world’s largest automakers — Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen — bypassed the Trump administration’s plan to freeze emissions and fuel economy standards adopted under Obama at 2021 levels.
The U.S. transportation sector is the nation’s biggest single source of planet-warming greenhouse gasses. In Maine, transportation emissions made up roughly half of all carbon emissions in 2015.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Associated Press writer Tom Krisher contributed to this report.