This post was coauthored with Dan West, NRDC Legislative Advocate
President Trump says he’s saving the U.S. auto industry, but his budget request for fiscal year 2019 tells a different story. It would cut programs at both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) that drive advanced vehicle manufacturing.
If enacted, these cuts would hurt American automakers and their workers, hit consumers in the pocketbook, force us all to breathe dirtier air and increase dangerous carbon pollution that fuels climate change.
In his State of the Union speech, Trump declared:
“In Detroit, I halted government mandates that crippled America’s autoworkers—so we can get the Motor City revving its engines once again.”
But Trump’s logic is flawed. The truth is that current clean vehicle and fuel economy standards support 288,000 jobs in more than 1,200 manufacturing facilities across the United States. Under these standards, the auto industry has been booming over the past decade while making cleaner, more efficient vehicles.
Yet his budget request for FY 2019 would slash, or even eliminate, funding for the very programs that helped make these gains possible.
Trump’s budget would kill DOE’s successful Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) direct loan program. The ATVM program is part of the larger DOE Loan Program, which has created thousands of clean energy jobs, leverages long-term private investment, and generates a return on investment for the federal government. These are all things Trump says he wants, yet his budget proposes to zero out this program when there are still billions left to be disbursed.
The ATVM program, which was created under President George W. Bush, helped Ford survive the Great Recession. Because of ATVM loans, Ford was able to create and preserve more than 33,000 jobs. Ford facilities supported by those loans have produced millions of fuel-efficient vehicles that DOE projects will save 268 million gallons of gas and prevent 2.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
ATVM loans also have propelled Tesla and Nissan to the forefront of the electric vehicle revolution. Tesla used its loan to create 1,500 jobs and turn its facility in Fremont, California, into a hub for advanced manufacturing. Tesla paid off its loan five years early and has since become one of the highest valued car companies in the world. Nissan used its loan to create more than 1,300 jobs and upgraded its facilities to manufacture up to 4.4 GWh (Gigawatt hours) worth of battery packs and up to 150,000 LEAF vehicles annually. The LEAF is now the world’s best-selling electric car.
Trump’s 2019 budget request also eliminates the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) which has provided millions of research dollars for electric vehicle batteries, alternative fuels, and vehicle emissions reduction.
Finally, Trump’s budget massively cuts the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Vehicle Technologies Office at DOE by $238 million, or 78 percent compared to 2017 current levels. The office funds crucial research into electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, energy efficient mobility systems, advanced combustion systems and fuels, lightweight and propulsion materials, and technology integration.
At EPA, Trump wants to cut several programs that hold Clean Air Act violators like Volkswagen accountable and enable upgrades to existing domestic fleets—programs that keep pollution down and support innovation in U.S. auto manufacturing.
This includes weakening the EPA’s ability to test and monitor vehicle emissions and enforce standards by cutting the Office of Transportation and Air Quality budget by 27 percent and staff by 13 percent compared to the agency's estimated level for 2018. This office houses the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory (NVFEL), which enforces vehicle emissions rules, including the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal that led to a $25 billion settlement. Cutting the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based lab’s funding basically gives vehicle manufacturers license to pollute.
The budget would also eliminate numerous programs where EPA partners with businesses or state and local governments to keep vehicle emissions in check, including SmartWay and the State and Local Climate Energy Program.
Trump also wants to whack by 75 percent the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program that provides money for communities affected by highly concentrated diesel pollution to retrofit and upgrade existing diesel engines. This program has shown to reduce particulate matter (PM) emissions up to 95 percent, smog-forming emissions such as hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) up to 90 percent, and greenhouse gases up to 20 percent.
By gutting the clean vehicle programs, it’s the Trump administration that is threatening to cripple the titans of Motor City. The American auto industry has been successfully revving its engines of innovation, making cleaner and more efficient vehicles under tighter fuel economy and emissions standards. Not only do they help keep our air clean, they drive the kind of advanced manufacturing that U.S. automakers need to remain competitive in the future. Trump’s budget cuts and efforts to rollback standards are the true danger to the industry and our health.