An ill-ad­vised de­tour on fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles

The pro­posed roll­back of an EPA reg­u­la­tion would hurt con­sumers and the en­vi­ron­ment.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUN­DAY OPIN­ION -

IN THE start of what prom­ises to be a broad roll­back of fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal rules, Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced on March 15 that he has re­opened re­view of an auto ef­fi­ciency reg­u­la­tion that would have forced the na­tion’s ve­hi­cle fleet to use less fuel and cut pol­lu­tion and which the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency fi­nal­ized in the clos­ing days of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Promis­ing a Detroit crowd that he would “pro­tect and de­fend your jobs, your fac­to­ries,” the pres­i­dent failed to men­tion the rule’s ben­e­fits: curb­ing the coun­try’s gaso­line ad­dic­tion would shrink fuel bills and re­duce the coun­try’s car­bon foot­print. Nor did he men­tion the EPA and the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ex­haus­tive stud­ies find­ing that the rule is tech­ni­cally fea­si­ble and that its ben­e­fits, par­tic­u­larly in gas sav­ings, would far out­weigh its costs.

The auto in­dus­try pushed the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion hard to re­visit the rule. The na­tion as a whole will pay the price.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fuel-ef­fi­ciency reg­u­la­tions will stay in place through 2022. But the stan­dards in ques­tion, for model years 2022 through 2025, are much more am­bi­tious. Set in 2012 and for­mally re­viewed just be­fore Mr. Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, the in­dus­try’s ef­fi­ciency tar­get is a fleetwide 54.4 mpg. “Au­tomak­ers have a wide range of tech­nol­ogy path­ways avail­able to meet the MY2022-2025 stan­dards, at slightly lower per-ve­hi­cle costs than pre­vi­ously pre­dicted,” the EPA con­cluded as it reaf­firmed the rule in Jan­uary.

In re­sponse to the stan­dards al­ready in force, na­tional ve­hi­cle fuel econ­omy has be­gun to rise. In its 2017 An­nual En­ergy Out­look, the En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­jected that the gov­ern­ment’s ef­fi­ciency drive would cut gaso­line con­sump­tion to the low­est level in decades. Over­all, with­out any fur­ther tight­en­ing of the rules af­ter 2025, trans­porta­tion-sec­tor en­ergy use and green­house emis­sions would be mod­estly lower by 2040, but that is ac­tu­ally an ac­com­plish­ment: A grow­ing econ­omy, in­creased jet travel and wider con­sumer in­ter­est in big cars would tend to raise those num­bers. In­stead, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s reg­u­la­tions would push the econ­omy to do more with less.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the Rhodium Group, an eco­nomic con­sult­ing firm, con­cluded be­fore the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion reaf­firmed the stan­dards in Jan­uary that they are an im­por­tant part of the ef­fort to meet the na­tion’s 2025 Paris cli­mate com­mit­ment. “If the re­view process pro­duced stronger stan­dards . . . the ac­tion would help the US make mod­est ad­di­tional progress in meet­ing the 2025 tar­get. If the re­view were to weaken the cur­rent stan­dard, it would set back emis­sion re­duc­tion ef­forts con­sid­er­ably.” By re­open­ing re­view, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is likely to take the lat­ter course.

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