Six Facts About Trump’s Clean Cars Rollback

The administration’s weak vehicle emissions standards hurt public health and harm the economy. They won’t hold up in court.

Commuters navigate traffic as they drive toward downtown in Los Angeles.

Reuters/Mike Blake

It’s hard to believe. While we are in the middle of a global pandemic, the Trump administration is dramatically weakening safeguards that protect our health and welfare. People are dying of virus-inflicted respiratory illness, and President Trump is acting to make the air dirtier.

On top of that, the Trump administration’s rollback of clean car and fuel economy standards makes the United States weaker economically by increasing gasoline bills, cutting jobs, and stifling innovation.

Here are six facts about this dangerous rule:

1. The rollback will lead to a massive amount of carbon pollution.

The leading source of carbon pollution in the United States is transportation, and emissions from vehicles—cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickup trucks—is the main reason why. Trump has now given automakers the license to make vehicles pollute more by weakening emissions standards for model years 2022 to 2026. According to the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency’s own calculations, automobile carbon pollution will increase by at least 867 million metric tons relative to the standards being rolled back. That’s equivalent to the pollution from 216 coal plants running for a year.

Along with increased carbon pollution comes accelerated climate change and more bad air days of choking smog and particulates, putting our health in greater danger.

2. The rollback will cost drivers more than $176 billion at the pump.

The rollback will hit consumers’ wallets because the gas-guzzling allowed by the rule’s reduced fuel economy standards will mean more trips to the pump. Again, according to the administration’s own analysis, Americans will consume an added 78 billion gallons of fuel. That will needlessly drain $176 billion from our pockets if the price of gas stays at $2.25 per gallon. And it will surely be higher during the lifetime of these new cars.

The only winner in this rollback is the oil industry, which wants us to be stuck driving dirty gas-guzzlers as long as possible.

3. The rollback will harm the U.S. economy.

Incredibly, the administration finalized a rule that costs more than it saves. That’s right, the Trump standards—according to the agency’s own analysis—will cost as much as $22 billion more than they save. The rollback will encourage automakers to forgo investments in cost-effective fuel-saving technologies, stifling innovation and leaving consumers to spend more on fuel. U.S. jobs will suffer in three ways:

  • Less investment in new clean and efficient vehicle technology means fewer autoworkers are needed to build parts and cars. The administration’s analysis estimates that 10,000 to 20,000 auto jobs will be gone—but it’s more likely close to 90,000.
  • More spending at the pump means less money people have to spend in their local communities to boost jobs. Conversely, the re-spending effect was expected to add as many as 250,000 jobs if the Obama standards remained in place through 2025.
  • While the United States stands still, failing to innovate, we’ll lose competitiveness in the global vehicle market, where clean car standards are tightening, and miss out on new business opportunities.

The economic harms of the rollback come in other forms too. The United States will exacerbate climate change and the costs that come from high-intensity storms and fires, health-threatening heat waves, and sea level rise. Our economy will also be more susceptible to the volatile global oil market due to our increased demand under the rollback.

4. Weaker standards won’t save lives.

The administration’s claim that this rollback will save lives is baseless. Its argument is premised on the idea that the cost-effective Obama standards will slow new vehicle sales and subsequently hamper the widespread use of new vehicle safety features. However, there’s no evidence to support this claim. The 2012 standards make vehicles cheaper to own, so why would sales suffer? In fact, some of the auto industry’s strongest sales years have been during the ramp-up of the Obama standards.

The rollback could make it even less safe to drive. Consumers could shy away from new cars that lack desired efficiency improvements and cost more to own.

Furthermore, the increased pollution caused by the rollback will lead to illness and premature deaths, taking lives, not saving them.

5. Automakers have shown they can meet the standards—and should oppose this rollback.

The EPA reports that automakers are meeting the standards that have been gradually strengthened since 2012. Over the eight years, these standards have cut carbon pollution by more than 455 million metric tons and saved drivers $86 billion at the pump, according to EPA data. Auto sales have boomed as consumers have clamored for cars, SUVs, and light trucks that are cleaner and more fuel efficient. Building better vehicles continues to help us weather market downturns (with better fuel economy) and fight climate change (with lower emissions). The Trump rollback, however, slams the brakes on that progress. Automakers should reject this dangerous rule. It’s not what consumers or our economy need.

It’s true that auto sales are currently taking a beating due to the COVID pandemic, but that’s no reason to turn backward. Fuel efficiency makes cars cheaper to own and so could boost sales. We can plot a recovery while staying focused on the long game of better climate stability and less oil dependence. Following the 2008–2009 recession, the auto industry bounced back stronger with standards that helped drive clean vehicle innovation. It can do this again.

6. The rollback will not hold up in court.

The Trump rollback is illegal. Federal law requires the Department of Transportation to set fuel economy standards at their “maximum feasible” levels and the EPA to set emissions standards that will protect public health and welfare. Neither agency has met those requirements. A vast technical record established by the agencies, along with the California Air Resources Board, shows that the standards set in 2012 are appropriate. NRDC raised these facts when the rollbacks were proposed. But many of the proposal’s flaws remain. We’ll see the Trump administration in court.

The Trump clean cars rollback is senseless, dangerous, and illegal. Trump’s misguided and unjustified rollback efforts—which started three years ago in Detroit—have only moved the nation backwards. They have created massive industry uncertainty, undermined states’ authority to protect their citizens from pollution, and disrupted necessary efforts to protect the planet from climate change. While Trump may have finalized his plan today, it’s not over. We’ll be fighting to put the United States back on the road to cleaner cars and a safer environment.

Tell Trump and the EPA to drop their attacks on clean car standards

About the Authors

Luke Tonachel

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

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