US Government Takes Sledgehammer to Clean Car Rules

September 18, 2019

Washington, DC — In another major setback for US climate policy, President Trump tweeted today that his administration is revoking California’s waiver to set stricter vehicle emissions standards that more than a dozen other states have adopted. For half a century, through eight prior US administrations, California’s standards have led the nation’s push for cleaner cars and light trucks.

Therese Langer, director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) transportation program, said:

“Without California, our cars would be much dirtier today. The Trump administration’s decision defies common sense. It slams the brakes on efforts to ensure automakers produce vehicles that are more efficient each model year. It will cost consumers dearly, forcing them to refill their gas tanks more often and spew more heat-trapping pollution into the air.

“This is a direct attack on US clean air policy that dates back to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 when Richard Nixon was president and Ronald Reagan was governor of California. This policy has reduced smog and other harmful air pollution.

“The Trump administration should make a U-turn for the sake of clean air and public health.”

Two federal agencies — the EPA and the Department of Transportation — are expected to issue legal challenges to California’s ability to set greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks. The EPA is revoking the waiver that allowed California to set standards for model year 2017-2025 vehicles. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s standards, the earliest version of which predated federal rules.

This is the first part of the administration’s dual-pronged attack on clean cars. Another rule is expected later this year to weaken US vehicle standards for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy — the miles-per-gallon average that each automaker must meet.

Rolling back fuel economy standards will do nothing to improve traffic safety, as the administration has claimed, and will instead cost American consumers $460 billion in combined fuel and vehicle costs ($3,300 per vehicle, on average) in the coming years, according to a recent report by Consumer Reports. 

Despite administration claims, ACEEE analysis shows that fuel economy standards have not increased the cost of cars, SUVs, and light trucks. In fact, vehicle prices have remained essentially flat over the past 15 years, even as average fuel economy improved.

Four automakers — Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda — rankled the Trump administration this summer by reaching a deal with California that maintains annual reductions in average vehicle emissions. Numerous lawsuits are expected to challenge the revocation of California's waiver, leaving it to the courts to make the final decision.

 

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors.