By Tim Pearce
The Trump administration is overhauling Obama-era vehicle emissions standards to encourage automakers to offer more affordable new car options for Americans.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) released a notice of proposed rulemaking Thursday outlining eight options for overhauling DOT’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The Obama administration last updated CAFE standards in 2012, capping the average fuel efficiency of a carmaker’s vehicle fleet at 39 miles per gallon by 2020 and 50 miles per gallon in 2025.
“The standards implemented by the previous administration raised the cost and decreased the supply of newer, safer vehicles. The government also previously failed to conduct a midterm review in the manner promised,” Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao wrote in a joint Wall Street Journal article, “Make Cars Great Again,” Wednesday evening.
The Trump administration’s preferred option locks in the 2020 CAFE standards until 2026.
The current CAFE standards were designed to cut down on auto emissions but have had the opposite effect as Americans buy older, cheaper and less-efficient cars. The average car in the U.S. is 12 years old, the oldest average in the nation’s history, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Heidi King.
“We show that by holding the stringent 2020 standards for a period of six years, we can manage to avoid a $2,340 increase in the average vehicle ownership cost in new vehicles,” King told reporters in a press call Thursday.
The proposed rule will also cut down on traffic fatalities by around 1,000 deaths annually as people buy newer, more reliable cars with improved safety features. The proposal saves about $500 billion in societal costs under the current standards, King said.
The proposal would also revoke California’s ability under the Clean Air Act to set its own limits on vehicle emissions, a move that the state will likely fight in court.
“We need to find the place where we are demanding as much efficiency, as much environmental control as makes sense, but not so much that it begins to have a detrimental affect to highway safety,” EPA Office of Air and Radiation Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum, who joined King on the press call, said. “We think the [Trump administration’s] preferred alternative occupies that sweet spot.”
Critics said the Trump administration proposal creates unnecessarily weak standards to manage emissions.
“Our analysis clearly indicates that the car companies are fully capable of meeting the CAFE standards and they are able to do so with great savings for consumers,” Consumer Federation of America’s director of public affairs, Jack Gillis, told NBC News.
King disagreed with that critique, saying that all the “low-hanging fruit” of technological advancement in the auto industry had already been developed, and subsequent advancements will be more complex and more expensive.
“The administration’s announcement that it will relax future fuel economy standards is good news for consumers,” Competitive Enterprise Institute Center for Energy and Environment Director Myron Bell said in a statement. “Even better news is the decision to take California out of the driver’s seat for setting CAFE standards for the entire country. Letting one state make decisions for people in other states makes a bad program even worse, especially since the state is California, which has been pursuing an anti-car agenda for decades.”
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