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