Study: Trump’s fuel econ­omy roll­back full of bad data, math

The Capital - - BUSINESS - By Tony Bar­boza

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posal to roll back fuel econ­omy stan­dards re­lies on an er­ror-rid­den and mis­lead­ing anal­y­sis that over­es­ti­mates the costs and un­der­states the ben­e­fits of tighter reg­u­la­tion, an in­de­pen­dent study by lead­ing econ­o­mists, en­gi­neers and other ex­perts has found.

Find­ings pub­lished in the jour­nal Science de­scribe the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis as marred by mis­takes and mis­cal­cu­la­tions, based on cherry-picked data and faulty as­sump­tions and skewed in its con­clu­sions. The anal­y­sis “has fun­da­men­tal flaws and in­con­sis­ten­cies, is at odds with ba­sic eco­nomic the­ory and em­pir­i­cal stud­ies, (and) is mis­lead­ing,” the re­searchers wrote.

The blunt as­sess­ment from a team of 11 ex­perts at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley, Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Carnegie Mel­lon, Yale and other uni­ver­si­ties casts more doubt on the un­der­pin­nings of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s plan to halt tough Obama-era rules re­quir­ing im­prove­ments in fuel econ­omy. It lends sup­port to Cal­i­for­nia and other states fight­ing to hold onto the miles-per-gal­lon tar­gets, the sin­gle big­gest fed­eral ac­tion to fight cli­mate change.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion launched the roll­back in Au­gust. While ac­knowl­edg­ing it would in­crease oil con­sump­tion, air pol­lu­tion and planet-warm­ing emis­sions, they ar­gued that tough fuel ef­fi­ciency stan­dards en­dan­ger driv­ers.

Strin­gent miles-per-gal­lon tar­gets, they ar­gued, would make new cars too ex­pen­sive and force peo­ple to stay in older ve­hi­cles that lack the lat­est safety fea­tures. Of­fi­cials also said the strict rules would push those who do up­grade into smaller, lighter and less safe cars. Aban­don­ing Oba­maera stan­dards, they said, would pre­vent thou­sands of traf­fic in­juries and fa­tal­i­ties, a con­clu­sion that is con­tra­dicted by pre­vi­ous fed­eral stud­ies, EPA staff and is re­port­edly be­ing re­con­sid­ered by the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Re­searchers moved quickly to scru­ti­nize the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ra­tio­nale and found that it over­stated the ben­e­fits of un­rav­el­ing the rules by at least $112 bil­lion.

They came to the op­po­site con­clu­sion: Weak­en­ing the rules would be more dam­ag­ing than keep­ing them in place.

“We see no eco­nomic jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to keep the stan­dard flat,” the study says.

An­to­nio Bento, a Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy and eco­nom­ics and the study’s lead au­thor, said, “It ap­pears fed­eral of­fi­cials cherry-picked data to sup­port a pre­de­ter­mined con­clu­sion that the clean-car stan­dards will lead to too many high­way deaths.

“But this is wrong, and for var­i­ous rea­sons,” Bento added. “And it was done in a very sloppy fash­ion, by in­flat­ing the costs and cut­ting the ben­e­fits in an al­most em­bar­rass­ing, dis­hon­est way.”

The EPA did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on the find­ings. NHTSA said it could not com­ment on a study it has not yet read.

The agen­cies’ plan would re­place ag­gres­sive miles-per-gal­lon stan­dards with ones that are even more lax than what au­tomak­ers had wanted.

The tougher Obama-era stan­dards aim to boost the fleetwide av­er­age fuel econ­omy of cars and trucks to about 36 mpg in re­al­world driv­ing by 2025. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posal freezes fuel ef­fi­ciency at the 2020 level of about 30 mpg.

One of the big­gest er­rors in­de­pen­dent re­searchers found in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s anal­y­sis was a mis­taken con­clu­sion that re­lax­ing fuel econ­omy rules will shrink the na­tion’s ve­hi­cle fleet by 6 mil­lion cars by 2029. That’s in vi­o­la­tion of ba­sic eco­nomic prin­ci­ples, which hold that loos­en­ing fuel econ­omy reg­u­la­tions will make new cars less ex­pen­sive and in­crease de­mand.


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