Week 8: Trump Jeopardizes the Auto Industry—and Federal Government Jobs

As dirtier cars hit the streets, the president’s fuel efficiency rollbacks and budget proposal will have thousands pounding the pavement.

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

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The Budget Drops

After weeks of leaks and sneak peeks, Donald Trump sent his first budget proposal to Congress on Thursday. The president intends to cut 31 percent from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 28 percent from the State Department, and 18 percent from the Department of Health and Human Services. In other words, Trump wants to gut the agencies that protect our planet, our safety, and our health. And he’ll lay off thousands of Americans in the process.

“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all of the people in it,” said the White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who has apparently never been involved in a swamp draining.

Even Scott Pruitt, the newly appointed EPA administrator who spent the last few years fighting EPA regulations, opposes Trump’s slashed budget for the agency. According to the New York Times, Pruitt went to the White House on Wednesday to ask for less drastic cuts. In response, the administration decreased funds for the EPA even further. It takes a lot to make Scott Pruitt a sympathetic character, but the White House has somehow pulled it off.

Trump at the Pump

Back in 2011, in an admirable act of cooperation between the government and industry, the Obama administration and automakers agreed to double automotive fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Shortly after the carmakers got their dose of positive publicity, though, they started working to undo the deal. Suddenly the carmakers claimed the standards were too expensive or unattainable. Here’s what really happened: The price of gasoline dropped dramatically, and the car industry saw the opportunity to bigger their profits by biggering their cars.

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On Wednesday, the Trump administration complied with their wishes, rolling back the standards that would have saved consumers money on gas, created jobs, and eventually cut oil imports by one-third. In Michigan alone, the rollbacks threaten nearly 70,000 jobs at 200 facilities that make parts for cleaner cars.

The automakers will soon regret this decision. Rather than one consolidated standard, the industry will soon face at least two—one from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and one from the state of California, which will withdraw from the current agreement. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia are likely to adopt California’s rules, setting standards more stringent than the federal minimums for 40 percent of the U.S. market. Those standards might be even more aggressive than the ones the industry just finished fighting.

I believe automakers have a word for this mistake: backfire.

Snowball’s Chance of Climate Action

We reported last week that many of Pruitt’s new EPA staffers hail from the sphere of climate change denier James Inhofe. This week, Pruitt hired another favorite of Senator Inhofe, Mandy Gunasekara, who is currently majority counsel for the Environment and Public Works committee chairman, Senator John Barrasso.

Senator Inhofe and Mandy Gunasekara during his snowball stunt

Gunasekara is famous for one thing: that snowball. In February 2015, she handed Senator Inhofe a Ziploc bag containing a snowball that he then brandished to the presiding senator while asking, either rhetorically or demeaningly, “You know what this is? It’s a snowball.” Gunasekara then looked on sheepishly as Inhofe made the case that a single February snowstorm disproved climate change science.

We don’t know if trying to provoke a snowball fight in the Senate chamber was Gunasekara’s idea, or if she was merely Inhofe’s unwitting accomplice. (“Go out and grab me a snowball, Mandy, and stop asking so many questions!”) Either way, it’s worrisome that the EPA is stocked with people who have been, at the very least, complicit in the largest science denial scheme since the tobacco wars.

Reordering the Executive Branch

President Trump signed yet another executive order this week, asking federal agencies to assess whether they’re optimally organized—and whether they should exist at all. The order is part of Trump’s promise to fundamentally reorganize the executive branch.

Fortunately, for anyone who cares about the environment, food safety, health care, highways, education . . . or pretty much anything, Trump has many hurdles to overcome before he can eliminate an agency. Even if his minions can bypass institutional resistance from the agencies themselves, and even if he can figure out how to sidestep the civil service laws that prevent the large-scale firing of federal employees, Trump will still have to convince Congress to wipe out the agencies that implement its laws and carry out its agendas.

Eliminating the EPA, for example, would require a massive overhaul of the United States Code, because someone would have to take responsibility for enforcing laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and so on. Congress isn’t particularly good at massive overhauls, which is one reason why so few federal agencies have been eliminated so far in modern history.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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