States Boost, Trump Rolls Back Clean Vehicles in 2017

Part of NRDC's Year-End Series Reviewing 2017 Energy & Climate Developments

In its short tenure, the Trump administration has been hard at work rolling back clean vehicle safeguards that protect the climate and our health. Led by EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the administration has re-opened federal automobile fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards with an eye to weakening them, and has proposed repealing outright standards designed to prevent dirty freight trucks from belching pollutants that cause smog and soot.

Fortunately, state governments have started building a clean transportation future.

The need to clean up our transportation system is massive. Transportation emits more of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that is changing our climate than any other sector. More than 125 million Americans across the country are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution from smog and particulate matter, according to the American Lung Association.

And jobs are at stake. The United States risks losing its competitive edge in the manufacturing of clean vehicle technologies. Announcements from China, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and France called for a rapid shift to super-efficient electric cars and eventual bans of the 100-year-old oil-fueled internal combustion engine.

Clean Vehicle Rollbacks

In March 2017, President Trump went to Detroit to begin weakening successful clean car and fuel economy standards that cover the auto industry through 2025. This is not what citizens of the Midwest auto-manufacturing states asked for. Polling of residents in Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee demonstrates overwhelmingly strong support for keeping the current standards in place. Instead of listening to the public and upholding the standards, the Trump administration is doing the bidding of automakers that are attacking the standards  and trying to neuter the penalties for not meeting them to boost profits. Weakening the standards is not only unpopular, it is technically and economically unjustified, as NRDC recently testified at an EPA hearing. Automakers have also engaged congressional allies to introduce Senate and House legislation that NRDC strongly opposed.

Pruitt also announced a repeal of needed health safeguards that limit pollution from heavy-duty diesel trucks. By removing a critical standard, Pruitt is opening a deadly loophole that would allow a few well-connected companies to produce new big rigs fitted with old engines that emit 20 to more than 40 times the air pollution of modern engines. EPA’s own analysis found that just selling 10,000 of these trucks in one model year could lead to 1,600 premature deaths. Pruitt is putting public health at risk to boost the profits of a few favored companies that appealed to him directly to let them keep assembling these dirty trucks.

States Stepping In to Boost Electric Vehicles and Clean Transportation

Fortunately, state leaders recognize that clean transportation is the path to prosperity because it’s better for public health, the environment and economic security. In November, the seven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont along with the District of Columbia announced a series of public listening sessions to guide clean transportation policy development in the region.

The roadmap to a clean, low-carbon future will require the transportation sector to electrify extensively. Electric transportation dramatically reduces states’ dependence on volatile global oil markets and keeps drivers’ hard-earned dollars in the local economy. More electric transportation will also reduce public health-care expenses and the costly risks of climate change, especially when combined with on-going efforts to produce more of our electricity from renewable sun and wind energy.

For decades, California has been dedicated to developing a mass market for vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions to protect its citizens from air pollution. The State’s Zero Emission Vehicle program has been a key driver for automakers to develop and sell electric vehicles. California law ensures that investor-owned utilities support electric transportation with charging infrastructure. In 2017, utilities proposed to invest more than $1 billion to expand electric car charging and electrify trucks, buses, port equipment and other equipment that moves people and goods in bulk.

Other state leaders recognize that widespread transportation electrification can save residents billions of dollars and that utilities play an important role  in accelerating the electric vehicle market. NRDC worked in Ohio and Michigan to advance utilities’ charging programs. Earlier this month, Massachusetts approved $45 million in utility investments in electric vehicle charging and related outreach programs to organizations interested hosting plug-in stations.

These programs are needed to keep up with growing electric vehicle sales. Sales for 2017 through November are well ahead of total sales for 2016, according to InsideEVs.com. This year analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance updated their electric vehicle sales outlook to be more aggressive due to declining battery costs and supportive policies in governments around the world.

In 2018, NRDC will continue working to accelerate the electric vehicle market through utility and related state programs. We will also continue fighting in Washington to preserve critical national clean vehicle standards that safeguard our health, protect the planet and save drivers money at the pump.

About the Authors

Luke Tonachel

Director, Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project, Energy & Transportation program

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