Pruitt Moves to Weaken Clean Car Standards

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is directing his agency to redo successful clean car standards that have already reduced 230 million tons of climate-changing emissions and saved consumers more than $49 billion at the pump. Pruitt is expected to significantly weaken the safeguards. New vehicles will make the air dirtier and guzzle more fuel because of his actions. EPA’s mission is to clean our air and protect our health, but Pruitt is willing to sacrifice the public’s well-being in a move that ultimately will harm consumers, job growth, and auto industry competitiveness.

Pruitt is contradicting years of analysis by EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the California Air Resources Board demonstrating that the car companies can achieve the 2022-2025 standards set in 2012 at reasonable cost. EPA's 2016 Technical Assessment Report and subsequent analysis found not only that automakers could meet the standards through 2025, but there were technical and economic bases for strengthening them. Pruitt wants to go in the opposite direction. He is disregarding the harm climate change is already doing while undercutting our economy.

Threatening the Planet and Our Health

Pruitt’s rollback of the EPA clean car standards is a U-turn in the fight against climate change. We don’t know exactly how far the agency will back-track until they publish new standards, but we can be sure that it will make achieving a low-carbon transportation system more difficult and likely more expensive. Transportation now emits more carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse case responsible for climate change, than power generation and passenger vehicles contribute 60 percent of transportation carbon pollution.

Delaying action to reduce vehicle carbon pollution now will mean more aggressive actions in the future if we want to get back on a path to stabilizing Earth's climate (e.g. less than 2 degree Celsius change in global temperature). Pruitt would rather hand a bigger problem to future generations, resorting to the “can’t do” arguments of auto industry lobbyists as opposed to the “can do” approach that the U.S. has used to advance its technology and global leadership. By weakening climate and health protecting standards, Americans will suffer from additional health burdens including more asthma attacks, lost time at school and work, and more bad air days due to an increasingly unstable climate.

Creating Turmoil in the Auto Industry

The auto industry has created its own headache. By asking the Trump administration to weaken the standards, they are heading for years of uncertainty, namely, a severe, unjustified and harmful rollback that will be fought for years in court. Automakers and their suppliers typically plan their products years before bringing them to market. Without the certainty of knowing what the standards will be, product planning will be reduced to guesswork. That uncertainty creates inefficiency costs for U.S. automakers and their suppliers.

Putting Jobs at Risk

Strong, long-term standards have been instrumental in advancing technology innovation, new products and the jobs to build them. Today more than 288,000 American are making components that go into cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. Weakening the standards stifles innovation and puts these jobs—and future innovation-fueled growth—at risk. U.S. suppliers, who support maintaining strong vehicle standards and employ 2.6 times more Americans than the car-brand auto assembly companies—could cut U.S. employees and move operations to other countries that are focused on building the clean cars we need now and into the future.

In fact, a new study by Synapse Energy Economics released this week adds to the evidence that maintaining strong standards is good for American jobs. Cleaner, more efficient vehicles produced as a result of the standards add money to consumers' pockets that they can spend in the broader economy (and auto industry), boosting U.S. jobs. The analysis found that the 2017-2025 standards are estimated to add more than 100,000 jobs in 2025 and 250,000 jobs in 2035 across the U.S.

Disregarding the Public

Because strong fuel efficiency standards are good for consumers, the environment and jobs, it’s no surprise that they enjoy overwhelming public support, including among more than two-thirds of residents in the auto-manufacturing strongholds of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee.

The standards ensure that consumers get cleaner, more efficient vehicles no matter what kind of vehicle they want to drive. The existing standards adjust to what people are buying, meaning automakers can continue to achieve them even if they are selling mostly SUVs or light trucks. 

Ignoring States’ Authority to Protect their Citizens

Thirteen Clean Car states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) and the District of Columbia—comprise 113 million Americans—are protecting their citizens from air pollution by maintaining strong vehicle standards. While Pruitt professes to support the authority of states, he appears willing to disregard his convictions for the auto industry. Pruitt has questioned the more than 50-year authority that Congress granted states to adopt vehicle standards that are more protective than EPA’s standards. NRDC would join the states to fight any attempt by Pruitt to undermine their authority to protect their citizens from vehicle pollution.

NRDC will fight EPA every step of the way as it works to potentially gut the federal clean car standards. Weaker standards increase the risks of climate change and endanger public health while sowing economic insecurity. Pruitt is taking us in the wrong direction and we will use all legal means available to stop him.

About the Authors

Luke Tonachel

Director, Clean Vehicles and Fuels Group, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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