Rollback of Fuel Standards Greenlights More Air Pollution

The Trump Administration recently announced its intention to roll back fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, a decision that is expected to increase the amount of air pollution rising from vehicles in the Houston area and across the U.S.

The action marked a reversal of a 2012 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to require new cars and light trucks to achieve an average fuel efficiency of about 36 miles per gallon by 2025 in real-world driving conditions, up from about 25 m.p.g. today.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s explanation for the change was that the Obama Administration had “set the standards too high.” However, some auto manufacturers have already demonstrated the technical feasibility of the tighter rules – including by building more zero-emission electric cars – and are now challenging the rollback, which creates an uncertain business climate and could harm sales of smaller, more efficient vehicles.

The tighter 2012 standard would have prevented the burning of an estimated 12 billion barrels and the release of more than 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change and sea-level rise. Now, those reductions will not happen – meaning more pollution.

Here are three things to know about the proposed rollback:

There is a lot at stake for Houston

The Houston area’s extreme vulnerability to rising storm surges, driven by climate change, was illustrated by the severe flooding during Hurricane Harvey last August.

There are an estimated 3.5 million cars and trucks registered in Harris County, which contribute to air pollution by releasing tons of not only carbon dioxide, but also hazardous air pollutants like cancer-causing benzene and nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog and microscopic soot.

The expected impact of the Trump Administration’s rollback would be even more larger, gas-guzzling vehicles on Houston’s roads in the future, and fewer smaller and more fuel-efficient cars, including fewer electric vehicles.

“Air Alliance Houston urges the EPA to enact and enforce strict regulations to prioritize human health and safety over industry growth,” the nonprofit Houston-based clean air advocacy organization said in a written statement. “Our organization will continue to work to address and spread awareness about the harmful air pollutants affecting the lives of Houstonians today.”

Automakers agreed to the Obama-era rules

The 2012 standards set by the Obama Administration were based on extensive negotiations with the states and auto manufacturers, some of whom agreed to the tighter rules during discussions with the federal government over taxpayer bailouts.

The Trump Administration’s proposed change is also expected to provoke a protracted legal battle, which means more uncertainty for automakers and consumers.

Under the terms of the federal Clean Air Act, California for decades has had a legal right – unique among states – to set vehicle emission standards different from and more stringent than the federal standards.

Thirteen states with about a third of U.S. auto sales, including New York, Massachusetts and Maryland, follow California’s standards, not the federal standards (which Texas follows). 

California and 16 allied states announced a lawsuit on May 1 to try to block the Trump Administration’s rollback, meaning that it’s unclear when or if they will actually take effect.

Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Pruitt has vowed to press ahead, despite the opposition. “California is not the arbiter of these issues,” Pruitt told Bloomberg TV.

We can do better

Houston area residents who are concerned about the multiplication of larger, gas-guzzling vehicles on our roads and the expected increase in air pollution should write or call their local Congressional representatives to express their strong opposition to the rollback of fuel efficiency standards.

To find the email address and phone number of your representative’s office, click here.  Tell them to keep EPA’s strong 2012 fuel efficiency standards in place.

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