By Robinson Meyer
On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that it would weaken the country’s clean-car standards, which regulate how much air pollution can be emitted from car tailpipes.
The proposal, which would take effect in 2020, would eliminate the federal requirement that new cars and light trucks get more fuel efficient on average every year. Instead, it would freeze the fuel-economy standard at about 29 miles per gallon until 2025. This is, by any measure, a big concession: The Obama administration once mandated that new cars and trucks average about 43 miles per gallon by that same year.
o one should have been happier about this change than the car industry. Since the day after Donald Trump’s election, carmakers have begged him to weaken the fuel-economy standards. But on Thursday, the car industry seemed subdued. The Auto Alliance—which lobbies for the “Big Three” U.S. automakers, as well as Toyota, Volkswagen, and Mazda—did not immediately hail the rollback as a triumph for American business.
“With today’s release of the administration’s proposals, it’s time for substantive negotiations to begin,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance, in a statement.
In coded but unmistakable language, the Alliance asked the Trump administration not to explicitly freeze the standards at 2020 levels, as it was proposing to do.
And despite their statements, it’s not clear that carmakers actually dislike the new proposal. Even if automakers care about climate change, the proposed rules will probably save them a lot of money.
Sam Ori, the executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, believes that car companies are bluffing. “The bottom line is just that industry wants the lowest costs possible,” he told me in June. “They’re concerned about the public-image aspect of this. They’re concerned that everyone’s going to see they’re self-interested, that their image as environmental stewards will be tarnished.”
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