California vows to 'fight this stupidity' as EPA moves to scrap clean car rules

The Trump administration has moved to weaken US vehicle emissions standards and has set up a major confrontation with California by scrapping its ability to enact stricter pollution standards and mandate the sale of electric cars.

In one of its most significant efforts yet to curtail policies designed to address climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed freezing fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels, removing the requirement that cars and light trucks be able to travel more than 46 miles per gallon of fuel by 2026. The 2020 standard would be around 32 miles per gallon.

The reversal of an Obama-era deal with automakers in 2012 will also withdraw a waiver California has under the Clean Air Act to exceed the national standards by requiring even more efficient cars. A dozen other states and Washington DC also follow higher standards.

The EPA said it wants a “50-state fuel economy” system and has claimed the reversal will have “negligible environmental impacts on air quality” and even result in thousands fewer deaths on the roads each year. The administration’s assertion that lighter, more fuel efficient cars are more dangerous has been disputed by transport experts.

“We are delivering on President Trump’s promise to the American public that his administration would address and fix the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards,” said Andrew Wheeler, the EPA’s acting administrator.

“Our proposal aims to strike the right regulatory balance based on the most recent information and create a 50-state solution that will enable more Americans to afford newer, safer vehicles that pollute less. More realistic standards can save lives while continuing to improve the environment.”

The rollback has provoked outcry from environmental and health groups, as well as states who are pushing for cleaner vehicle fleets. States that have followed California’s emissions standard immediately said they will sue the EPA should the new rule be finalized.

“The administration’s proposal to weaken these rules will cause the American people to breathe dirtier air and pay higher prices at the pump,” said a joint statement from attorneys general from the states, including New York, Virginia and North Carolina. “We are prepared to go to court to put the brakes on this reckless and illegal plan.”

California’s response has been stinging. Xavier Becerra, the state’s attorney general, said the Trump administration had “launched a brazen attack” on California which he would fight in the courts.

Jerry Brown, California’s governor, said the EPA’s move was “reckless” and a “betrayal”. Brown added: “California will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible.”

Transport has become the largest sector source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, as cheap fuel has encouraged Americans to buy larger vehicles such as SUVs. In announcing the new standards in 2012, the Obama administration said the stricter rules would save around 6bn tons of greenhouse gases by 2026, as well as save Americans $1.7tn in fuel costs.

Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator under Obama, said the reversal of these standards “run contrary to sound science and the law”.

While many carmakers have touted their development of more efficient cars, including electric vehicles, auto lobbyists were quick to get assurances from the Trump administration that the more stringent rules would be dismantled.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the rollback is “completely unacceptable”. Its analysis shows the Trump administration’s new regime for vehicles would result in an additional 120m tons of carbon emissions by 2030 – the equivalent of running 30 coal-fired power plants for a year.

“It’s an attack on the climate, consumers, state governments and the future viability of America’s auto industry,” said Ken Kimmell, president of UCS. “The Trump administration has decided to force America’s drivers to spend more at the gas pump, burn millions more barrels of oil, and put us on a path to greater harm from climate change.

“The administration’s proposal goes beyond a simple rollback. This is a demolition, and there’s no scientific or technological justification for it.”

Fuel efficiency standards were first introduced in 1975 and are estimated to have saved Americans more than $2tn in fuel costs since then. Some automakers and conservative critics, however, have opposed ever-increasing standards as a costly burden on industry that runs contrary to consumer demand.


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