Why Trump’s looser emission standards are mixed blessing for automakers

U.S. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler addresses staff at EPA Headquarters in Washington

U.S. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler addresses staff at EPA Headquarters in Washington

The Trump Administration unveiled on Thursday proposed rulemaking for rolling back Obama-era fuel economy standards for automakers, recommending the freezing of the mile-per-gallon standards for passenger cars and light trucks after model year 2020.

The administration said the freeze would boost US oil consumption by about 500,000 barrels of oil a day by the 2030s, and argued it would prevent up to 1,000 traffic fatalities per year by reducing the price of new vehicles and so prompting people to buy newer, safer vehicles more quickly.

It further argues these reduced costs would allow more consumers to purchase newer, safer cars, which it says would save up to 1,000 lives annually. Several other states followed California's guidelines, creating a fragmented set of standards across the country. They claimed the reduced standards would make new cars more affordable. They said the average cost of a new automobile is $35,000 and attributed part of that to increasing fuel standards.

The proportion of passengers killed in cars that are older than 18 years is nearly double that of cars that are newer than three years, according to a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study.

The administration's proposal asserts that "attempting to solve climate change, even in part" is "fundamentally different" from the Clean Air Act's "original objective of addressing smog-related air quality problems". Under the Trump administration's preferred proposal, that would drop to 29.6 miles per gallon, a reduction in nationwide fuel efficiency of about 21 percent. In the end, the White House approved taking a hard line, despite fears of some administration officials that their plan is based on weak evidence that will not hold up under court challenge.

The argument may prove a tough sell in court, where attorneys for states and environmental groups will come armed with a wealth of data undermining it. At the moment, the state standard and the national one are the same-but if they diverged, automakers could end up making multiple versions of each auto to sell in different parts of the U.S. The Trump administration wants to take away California's right to set higher standards. It might even cause auto prices to stop increasing so rapidly. "These arguments are not new".

And yet despite the grave risk of delay, the Trump administration has put forth flimsy justifications for the rollback. "But if not, I'd remind them that California has won this battle before".

California, which has long had a waiver from the Clean Air Act to set its own standards, also signed off on the rule.

©2018 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Schwarzenegger and Trump have repeatedly criticized each other over the years, including during Trump's presidency. The average new-car transaction is now $36,000, up more than $3,000 since 2014, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Environmental groups in ME, which is among the states that adopted California's tougher emissions requirements for new cars, and around the country quickly denounced the widely anticipated move.

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