Trump Administration Rolls Back Car Emission Regulations

Earlier this month, President Trump unleashed yet another attack on the effort to head-off climate change by rolling back auto emissions regulations known as California Clean Cars. The Trump Administration is suing California to prevent it from locking its own strict emission reduction standards in place.

State and environmental groups are prepared to bring the lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court to prevent the rollback from being implemented.  

The administration’s plan is a major setback in efforts to reign in emissions from the transportation sector, which is the #1 source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, as well as in New York State. The suit is also an affront to states’ rights, including New York’s, to set stricter emissions and environmental pollutant standards than the federal government’s standards. 

California’s Low Emission Vehicle regulations were put in place through a waiver of Clean Air Act preemption that was granted to California in a case that was eventually decided by the Supreme Court in 2009. The decision gave California the right to draw up its own emissions regulations, which stipulate that every new car must be 50% more efficient than the average car sold in the U.S. The standard set fuel economy for cars at 54.5 miles/gallon by 2025

The waiver was then adopted by 15 other states, including New York, allowing them to set similar car emission standards to California’s. If standards adopted under the waiver were to be fully implemented by 2030, California’s auto emissions would be cut by 174 million metric tons of yearly – 40% below 1990 levels. 

Auto emissions contain toxic compounds including carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide among other hazardous molecules. Diesel exhaust contains more than 40 toxic compounds including arsenic, and particulates that cause lung disease and cancer. The ability for California to set its own fuel standards, and for the 15 additional states to set similar strict standards, would have let them address these environmental and health hazards.

The effect of this rollback brings fuel standards in states with waivers back to the nationwide 37 miles/gallon requirement that existed before the Low Emission Vehicle regulations were established. 

The rollback may also depress American automobile sales, forcing American buyers who want cleaner vehicles to turn to foreign auto manufacturers who make cars with cleaner emissions. It would also cost consumers a projected $160 billion over the next 30 years in higher prices for fuel and health problems. The total economic and health costs would amount to $400 billion by mid-century, causing 27,000 premature deaths in the next 25 years and millions of more cases of lung disease, including childhood asthma

The administration’s plan, written by Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the EPA and former coal lobbyist, claims that the Low Emission Vehicle regulations are too expensive because they would increase the sticker price of new cars. However, cleaner vehicles offer significant savings in fuel cost and car maintenance. Additionally, the price tags for clean vehicles are coming down as demand increases. Stanford University found that Wheeler’s analysis is flawed because it doesn’t take into account federal fuel efficiency standards after 2016 and the rising consumer demand for clean vehicles.

The second argument that the Trump Administration is making in favor of the rollbacks, is that new clean energy vehicles would kill jobs. However, consumer demand for clean vehicles is strong as awareness of climate change is growing. As the market goes, so go the jobs. Thousands of new jobs are opening up in environmental technology, including in building and installing solar panels and windmills, in energy storage, and in natural gas and hydrogen production.

Fortunately, states are already fighting back. Governor Cuomo, along with Governors Jay Inslee of Washington and Gavin Newsom of California issued a statement declaring the rollbacks an assault on states’ rights to protect residents from harmful pollutants. New York and 22 other states joined California in suing to stop the rollback. New York State’s Attorney General Letitia James is leading the lawsuit, saying the rollback is a misguided and reckless attempt that will sacrifice the well-being of New Yorkers and put everyone in danger of the effects of climate change. 

NYLCV will continue to advocate for policies that reduce emissions, on the federal, state, and local levels.