The Trump Administration’s Flawed Reasons for Rolling Back Clean Car Standards
The Trump administration is making some pretty outlandish claims to justify its roll back of the nation’s most effective program at fighting climate change. Asserting that stronger fuel economy standards make our roads less safe, the administration moved last week to weaken Obama-era clean car standards -- but their claims just aren’t true.
The Trump administration is making some pretty outlandish claims to justify its rollback of the nation’s most effective program at fighting climate change. Asserting that stronger fuel economy standards make our roads less safe, the administration moved last week to weaken Obama-era clean car standards — but their claims just aren’t true.
First, the administration argues that fuel-efficient vehicles lower the cost of driving, so owners drive more. As the argument goes, more miles driven equals more crashes, injuries and fatalities. But the Trump administration cherry-picked data and ignored recent studies suggesting the number of fatalities that would be avoided by rolling back the program is artificially inflated. Notably, the administration also fails to take into account any data about pollution and climate-related deaths in making its determination. Air pollution from transportation is responsible for a staggering 30,000 premature deaths each year, and the changing climate is endangering communities across the country, from more extreme wildfires to more intense storms.
Second, the administration argues that the Clean Car Standards would make new cars cost $2,340 more, which will keep people from buying cars with advanced safety features, instead sticking with older, less-safe vehicles. What the administration fails to mention is drivers of new vehicles introduced in 2018 will save an average of $2,605 in fuel costs. Even if the administration is right about the increase in sticker price, the savings will more than make up for it.
Finally, the administration argues that strict fuel efficiency standards require automakers to produce lighter vehicles that are less capable of withstanding crashes. While it is true that automakers have been reducing the weight of vehicles to improve fuel efficiency, they have mainly been doing so with their heaviest vehicles. Contrary to the administration’s claims, this could actually improve safety, because there is a smaller disparity in weight between the heaviest and lightest vehicles.
In short, the administration’s justifications for weakening the standards don’t hold up scrutiny. That’s a problem, especially when you consider what we’re getting from them.
The Clean Car Standards — federal regulations and incentives for the auto industry — are set to double fuel economy and cut global warming pollution in half for vehicles sold in 2025. Since they were agreed upon by all of the major auto manufacturers, California, unions, environmentalists and the federal government in 2012, the standards have reduced pollution, spurred innovation, and saved consumers money.
The transportation sector now produces more global warming pollution than any other part of our economy. If we want clean air and a healthy environment, we have to reduce our transportation-related emissions.
The adoption of the standards represented a monumental victory for public health and the environment, and only came after decades of work by environmental and public health advocates. The federal program was based on the program developed by California and later adopted in 13 additional jurisdictions, including 12 states and Washington, D.C.
U.S. PIRG, Environment America and our network of state offices have been working on this campaign for more than a decade. First, we persuaded states across the country to adopt California’s Clean Car standards. We kept up the pressure on automakers and boosted the case for federal action. Then, we lobbied and mobilized support for the national standards proposed by the Obama administration, which were adopted in 2012.
Over the past year, we have defended those standards from the Trump administration’s efforts to roll them back. Over a thousand health professionals, 550 small businesses, and tens of thousands of people have joined us in calling for cleaner cars.
If the Trump administration really wants to make Americans safer, rolling back the Clean Car Standards is not the way to do it. Not only will it not work, it puts Americans at greater risk from harmful air pollution and the worsening effects of climate change. We need our national leaders to look forward and tackle transportation emissions head on. That means using the tools that work, including keeping strong clean car standards in place.
Written by Matt Casale, Transportation Campaign Director, U.S. PIRG, and Andrea McGimsey, Senior Director, Global Warming Solutions, Environment America
Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG
Matt oversees PIRG's toxics, transportation and zero waste campaigns and leads PIRG’s climate program to promote a cleaner, healthier future for all Americans. Matt lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, two daughters and chihuahua.