By Jeff Alson
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to massively roll back its undeniably successful car greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards while totally ignoring the technical and scientific facts, as well as its world-renowned federal, career staff. This is unprecedented and will go down as one of the most anti-science and anti-transparency actions in agency history.
Over the previous decade, EPA’s technical staff published nearly 10,000 pages of analysis strongly supporting the car GHG standards. The comprehensive and sophisticated federal automotive technology analysis was developed using new tools recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, which had never been used by any regulatory agency.
Now, instead of building on this historic work, EPA political leadership rubber-stamped a biased analysis of both the GHG and fuel economy standards cobbled together by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide a political rationale for what is essentially an eight-year freeze of the GHG standards.In doing so, EPA effectively endorsed DOT’s refusal to have a single technical working meeting with EPA staff since the 2016 election. DOT has no laboratory and has never performed a single vehicle fuel economy or GHG test. EPA, on the other hand, operates a state-of-the-art vehicle pollution laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has performed every federal fuel economy and GHG test for the last 40 years. It’s disappointing that the Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler would agree to rubber stamp the shoddy DOT analysis.
The extreme rollback proposal is consistent with the view of both former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and President Trump that facts simply do not matter. By March 2017, less than two months after his inauguration, Trump and Pruitt had already concluded that the car GHG and fuel economy standards were “job killers.” This claim is absurd on its face.
The standards began in 2012 and U.S. auto sales have risen in five of the six years since then to a record in 2016, with only a tiny decrease in 2017. The years from 2015 through 2017 are three of the four highest auto sales years in history, and 2018 is on track to remain near the record. Profits and jobs have increased and remain at high levels. Ironically, even the seriously flawed DOT analysis projects that the standards increase jobs.
The GHG and fuel economy standards have not only been great for automakers, but for consumers as well. The standards have sparked cost-effective technology innovation such as more efficient engines and transmissions, stop-start systems, and lightweight materials. For every dollar that consumers invest in better technology, they save $2 to $3 in lower gasoline costs. The standards require automakers to achieve average real-world fuel economy of about 36 mpg in 2025, or an improvement of about 1 mpg per-year. This is not rocket science.
Some experts have called these standards the single most important action taken by any country to address climate change, given that transportation has now overtaken utilities as the largest source of U.S. GHG emissions. And reducing oil consumption lowers our trade deficit and increases national security.
While the current standards get a little tougher each year, the DOT proposal authorized by EPA proposes to freeze the GHG standards at today’s levels through 2026. Allowing automakers to do absolutely nothing for eight years will increase GHG emissions by nearly 900 million metric tons over the lifetimes of the vehicles sold in those years and worsen climate change.
Rolling back the standards will force consumers to pay more for gasoline, thereby taking money from consumers’ pockets and giving it to the oil companies and OPEC. Low-income Americans will be hurt the most, as they pay a higher percentage of their income for gasoline. And good-paying technology jobs at the automakers and suppliers will decline.
The good news is that the recent proposal is not legally binding and must go through a full public rulemaking process. Accordingly, this is the time for the American people to demand that successful car GHG and fuel economy standards not only be maintained at their current levels through 2025 but strengthened for the future.
Jeff Alson worked for 40 years at the EPA National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan.