Automakers Still Want to Lower Emissions Standards in the US

This week, a group of 17 automakers sent a letter to President Trump asking him to back down from his administration’s plan to roll back Obama-era vehicle emissions standards.

But while the letter was framed as a rebuke, or a warning, it made something clear: many of the world’s biggest automakers still want to lower emissions standards at a time when the planet is experiencing a blooming environmental crisis brought on by humans.

The Environmental Protection Agency first announced these emissions standards in 2009, and they went into place in 2012. According to the rule, automakers agreed to make it so their fleets would have average CO2 emissions of 163 grams per mile, equivalent to an average fleet fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon, by 2025.

The standards would increase each year, forcing automakers to make their cars cleaner along the way, ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions by hundreds of millions of metric tons and cutting oil consumption by over 1 billion barrels.

One of Trump’s first priorities when he took office in 2017 was rolling back this rule, and the automakers initially expressed support — some even before his inauguration. In April 2018, then-EPA director Scott Pruitt started the process to rewrite the rule, claiming the standards were “not appropriate” and argued that his predecessors at the agency “cut the [review] process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.” Pruitt’s EPA started a new rule-making process, though it based initial arguments on old, misleading data.

By August 2018, the administration unveiled its plan. The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration drew up a rule that would freeze the escalating standards at the 2020 level of 37 miles per gallon, with no improvements after that. It argued that dirtier cars would be safer, since they’d be more affordable, and wouldn’t scare customers into hanging onto older, more dangerous vehicles.

In the letter sent this week, the automakers say they want something in the “midway” point between the current Obama rules and the rollback proposed by Mr. Trump. General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen Group, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, and Subaru all signed the letter. Fiat Chrysler did not sign, though it was one of just two automakers to testify at hearings held by the EPA about the rule change.

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