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Trump Administration Finalizes Car Rule Which Will Worsen Economy, Public Health

Insights + Opinion
ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

By Dave Cooke

So, they finally went and did it — the Trump administration just finalized a rule to undo requirements on manufacturers to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger cars and trucks. Even with the economy at the brink of a recession, they went forward with a policy they know is bad for consumers — their own analysis shows that American drivers are going to spend hundreds of dollars more in fuel as a result of this stupid policy — but they went ahead and did it anyway.


The Rule, by the Numbers

The administration recognizes this is a bad deal for the country — even their own cooked books couldn't make this look like a good idea:

  • American drivers will burn an additional 2 billion barrels of oil, resulting in 900 million metric tons of additional global warming emissions;
  • Vehicle prices could be reduced by $1,000, but consumers would pay more than $1,400 more in fuel, a net loss and obviously a terrible deal;
  • Accounting for miles traveled, the rule results in more premature deaths from air pollution (up to 1600), than offset by the agencies' (optimistic) estimate of less than 800 avoided traffic fatalities;
  • The rule cuts automotive revenue by $50 billion dollars, resulting in job losses in the auto sector of 10,000-20,000 in 2030, a number which excludes the even worse macroeconomic job losses which would accrue;
  • The net benefits of the rule are actually negative, resulting in $10-20 billion in net monetized harm to the country, which is actually a worse outcome than most of alternatives the agency considered!

And on top of all this, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NSHTA) found time to incorporate special corporate giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, the only industry slated to benefit from this rule in the first place.

The Final Rule Is Not Necessarily Better Than the Proposal

There will likely be a lot of reporting that says that this final rule is better for the environment than the proposal, but this is wrong. On paper, the Trump administration has replaced its proposal to halt required progress entirely after 2020 with a rule that requires 1.5 percent improvement per year, a rate which is of course lower than the automakers have averaged now for more than a decade. But paper targets don't matter — what matters is what happens in the real world. And all this rule is doing is maintaining the status quo.

While ostensibly increasing the requirements of the rule, the Trump administration has also increased flexibilities and credits granted to automakers compared to the proposal, credits which the industry requested and which we've shown could be as bad as the rollback. Incredibly, they've even granted credits that no automaker asked for, for natural gas vehicles that no one currently sells (of course, that was a handout to the oil industry, just like the rest of this rule). While they didn't grant all automaker requests, they did extend through 2026 the decision to ignore emissions from the electricity powering EVs and increased the number of technologies eligible for credits not captured by standards test procedures (so-called "off-cycle credits") while simultaneously reducing the public scrutiny on those emissions, even though recent data on some of these credits calls into question their value.

Awarding automakers these flexibilities and loopholes makes the miniscule change in stringency completely toothless. Consumers will continue to be railroaded by this change in policy.

The Economy Is in a Tenuous Position — This Rule Will Make It Worse

Right now, the economic outlook is uncertain — we are shedding jobs by the millions, and even after we come out of this pandemic, we will likely be dealing with a recession. The administration's policy just compounds that economic pain for consumers by ensuring they pay more at the pump. This is exactly the wrong policy at the worst time — what we need to be doing is helping consumers pay less in fuel so they can put those saving back to work in our local economies.

Consumers will pay thousands more for fuel as a result of this rule, which hurts the economy and negatively impacts job growth. The only people that benefit from the administration's finalized rule are the oil companies.

The Safe Rule Is Unsafe

One of the biggest, dumbest points made in the original proposal was that this rule would save lives. But the administration admits now that such claims were total nonsense. Even by their own fuzzy math, the "tens of thousands of lives saved" from the proposal have been reduced to just a few hundred, and now that they've finally bothered to calculate the adverse health impacts, they've found that up to 1600 people would die prematurely thanks to the additional air pollution from this rule (a number that is likely a significant underestimate).

We are in the middle of a public health crisis that's devastating our economy, and the administration is finalizing a rule that will undermine both public health and the economy. If that isn't some of the most backwards nonsense ever, I don't know what is.

Fighting It out in the Courts

As with so many of the administration's wrongheaded rollbacks, this one will end up in the courts. There continue to be a mountain of errors in the policy and a number of corners cut to avoid public scrutiny and sideline the administration's own experts.

This policy is bad for consumers, bad for public health, and bad for the environment. And we will continue to fight it in the courts because this country deserves better.

Reposted with permission from Union of Concerned Scientists.

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