By Dianne Feinstein and Ken Kimmell
Originally published in The Mercury News.
President Trump and his administration aren’t just trying to roll back clean car standards, they’re taking a wrecking ball to them. If they succeed, the damage will be widespread.
The Trump administration announced a proposal to completely upend the success we’ve made building cleaner cars and trucks for America’s drivers. The administration is inviting years of litigation and economic uncertainty for the auto industry.
Under their plan, car companies will no longer be required to boost fuel economy in vehicles built after 2020, and states will no longer be allowed to keep their own pollution standards. This proposal defies economic sense, climate sanity and most importantly, the law.
The Trump administration has a legal duty to cut oil use and reduce the pollution that causes climate change. But they’re abandoning this obligation in their short-sighted rush to undo vehicle standards.
The administration is also trying to undermine California’s authority to set its own pollution standards granted by the Clean Air Act. The act specifically allows California to control emissions and other states to use California’s standards instead of the federal minimums. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now follow California’s lead, representing more than a third of the U.S. auto market.
California and the states that adopt California’s clean-car standards want to partner with the federal government to ensure one national program. That’s exactly what the Obama administration and the states agreed on in 2010 – leading to the significant progress we’ve seen in recent years.
It’s important to remember where we were just before these standards were put in place. Automakers were on the verge of bankruptcy due to the great recession, skyrocketing gas prices and an overreliance on building gas guzzlers. Many of these companies needed a taxpayer bailout to stay afloat. Against that backdrop, the automakers supported raising the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks as a better way forward.
The new fuel efficiency standards worked. They drastically lowered the cost for families at the pump, saving drivers nearly $60 billion. The necessary technology innovations helped create new jobs for autoworkers. And major manufacturers are now seeing some of their best sales years in history.
Despite this unqualified success, when President Trump came into office the automakers immediately asked the new president to reopen the standards. And their trade groups supplied his administration with shoddy science and bad arguments to justify undoing the standards.
Contrary to the automakers’ claims, keeping these successful standards in place is supported by a wealth of scientific evidence. Scientists and engineers from the EPA, the Department of Transportation and the California Air Resources Board rigorously researched, tested and analyzed vehicle technologies. The evidence is clear: the current standards are technologically feasible and cost-effective.
President Trump is refusing to listen to those facts. If he has his way, American families will again pay more at the pump while burning more gasoline at to the expense of the economy and the climate.
And American car companies will be placed at a huge disadvantage in an increasingly competitive and carbon-conscious global marketplace. Allowing American automakers to ignore global trends doesn’t make economic sense and sets us up for a repeat of what brought these companies to their knees 10 years ago.
The automakers still have a chance to reverse course by showing their commitment to cleaner cars and a secure future for America’s auto industry. They need to publicly support the strong standards and reject the Trump administration’s ill-fated proposal. Otherwise, the President Trump will drive us over a cliff, and take America’s economy with it.
Dianne Feinstein represents California in the U.S. Senate. Ken Kimmell is president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.