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August 2, 2018
The EPA’s Bizarre Justification For Rolling Back Fuel Efficiency Standards
EPIC Executive Director Sam Ori weighs in on the Trump administration's decision to roll back federal fuel economy standards.
By Umair Irfanvia Vox
The Environmental Protection Agency is starting to roll back one of the most important policies for limiting climate change of the Obama era. The agency is also picking a fight with states that want tougher car emission rules, setting itself up for a knock-down, drag-out legal fight.
The proposal, released Thursday morning by the EPA and the US Department of Transportation, would ramp up fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks until 2021 and then freeze them. The change would also revoke California’s waiver to set its own rules under the Clean Air Act, rules that 13 other states and the District of Columbia also follow.
California is already swinging back.
The transportation sector is now the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the United States, so going further with less fossil fuels would reduce the country’s impact on the global climate. Vehicles are also the largest source of air pollution, so reducing what comes out of tailpipes would save lives.
The Obama-era standards would avert 570 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, equivalent to stopping 140 typical coal-fired power plants for a year, the Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated.
They’d save consumers money too. According to Margo Oge, former head of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, the fuel savings alone through 2025 would add up to $1.7 trillion.
However, the Trump administration has argued that the prior standards would cost society $500 billion over the next 50 years. “More realistic standards can save lives while continuing to improve the environment,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement.
The key target was that automakers would have to reduce their average greenhouse gas emissions from the passenger cars and light trucks they sell to 163 grams per mile by 2025. A subtle point here is the EPA estimated meeting this goal with just fuel efficiency improvements means car companies would have to achieve an average economy of 54.5 miles per gallon across their offerings, assuming more cars than trucks are sold. That doesn’t mean that 54.5 mpg is the actual benchmark for all car companies.
Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, explained that the fuel economy standard was designed to adapt to consumer behavior. It’s measured based on the vehicle’s footprint, so larger cars and trucks have to meet less stringent targets.
So if people buy more SUVs, a car company is allowed to have a lower average fuel economy. On the other hand, this can push carmakers to build larger and larger vehicles (witness the growth of crossover SUVs).
“Footprint-based standards incentivize automakers to make bigger vehicles,” he said.