Trump Administration moves to cancel clean car standards, undoing Obama’s CAFE win

In 2012 the Obama Administration achieved a major win, with the full endorsement of the automobile industry, to require tighter fuel efficiency standards.  The new CAFE Standards would reduce fuel consumption, reducing air pollution, and saving the US Economy zillions of dollars a year in fuel expenditures.  Given the friendliness of the Trump Administration to the Oil Companies, today’s move to cancel the fuel efficiency standards was long-expected.  We can expect and a big fight over this, and those of us who want clean sustainable transportation should put effort into preserving the Obama-era rules.

A statement from the White House titled Make Cars Great Again, says the US EPA and US Transportation Department jointly announced a plan to review the standards and “to update the national automobile fuel-economy and greenhouse-gas standards to give consumers greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles, while continuing to protect the environment.”

One key is a reliance on a strange analysis suggesting the move to cleaner cars will increase traffic fatalities tremendously.  There is more about this later, but read the announcements carefully and you see the Administration pledging to be in support of “safer more affordable cars”, while claiming the Obama-era CAFE standards do the opposite.

Attack on States Rights by so-called Conservatives

Another key point is this:  “to create one national standard that is technologically feasible and economically practicable.”  The phrase “one national standard” refers to a goal of eliminating California’s stringent clean air rules, and the ability of US States in general to establish their own rules.  This is bound to create a fight with California and other states that have established their own fuel economy and clean air standards.  In the case of California, our waiver to set stringent clean air standards predates the existence of national standards, and are one of the key driving forces behind cleaning up the transportation system.

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Supposedly Conservatives are in charge in Washington DC, and supposedly Conservatives are in favor of States Rights, which is the principle that each US State should have the freedom to make its own laws and regulations.  That’s what California has done in setting its own clean air standards.  So … they’re in support of States Rights when it’s an issue they like, and against States Rights when it’s an issue they do not like?

The immediate effect is to freeze CAFE implementation with the 2020 standards — “because the analysis of our agencies suggests that those standards strike the appropriate regulatory balance between vehicle improvements, environmental benefits and safety.”  Those will be the standards until 2026, by which time the Administration will have figured out what to do.

The White House statement makes a bogus claim:  “There are compelling reasons for a new rulemaking. The standards implemented by the previous administration raised the cost and decreased the supply of newer, safer vehicles.” And additionally that “Customers’ preferences have also changed since the current standards were introduced.”

Customer preferences speaking loud with Tesla Model 3

One clear indication of changing “Customer” preferences is the huge increase in Tesla Model 3 sales.  According to the Inside EV’s monthly plug-in car sales scoreboard, in July 2018 Tesla sold over 14,000 Model 3’s, which is about 10x the sales rate for other top selling electric cars.  This clearly demonstrates pent-up demand for a semi-affordable electric car (okay… it’s $50,000+ which is not exactly affordable, but it’s more affordable than the Model S and Model X).

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So far this year Tesla Model 3 sales went from 1800 in January, to 3000 per month in Feb, March, April, to 6000 per month in May and June, and now well over 14,000 per month in July.  Total Model 3 sales so far is over 38,000 and there is five months left in the year.  That number, 38,000 cars, is almost 1/5th the total plug-in car sales for all of 2017.  Total years sales of the Model 3 for 2018 could be over 100,000 cars.  Is that not a clear statement of customer preference?

EPA/DoT announcement

Turning to the actual EPA/DOT announcement, we see that they have instituted a new Rulemaking, the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks (SAFE Vehicles Rule).  The stated goal is (and we should look to see if their tongue is in their cheek) to “correct the national automobile fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards to give the American people greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles that are cleaner for the environment.”

The reason I suggest they must be keeping their tongue in cheek is a claim made elsewhere that the 2012 CAFE standards “add $2,340 to the cost of owning a new car, and impose more than $500 billion in societal costs on the U.S. economy over the next 50 years.”

Clean vehicles are more dangerous?  WTF?

The “safer vehicles” issue is based on other bogus reasoning by the Trump Administration.  According to a NY Times report, the Trump Administration claims that forcing automakers to build fuel efficient cars will also increase the risks of traffic accidents.  Namely:

  • First, people who buy fuel-efficient vehicles will end up driving more, increasing the odds that they will get into a crash.
  • Second, the fuel-efficient vehicles will themselves be more expensive, slowing the rate at which people buy newer vehicles with advanced safety features.
  • Third, automakers will have to make their cars lighter in response to rising standards, slightly hurting safety.

For the first claim, the Trump Administration is relying on something known as the “rebound effect”.  Increasing fuel economy means people will feel free to drive more, and therefore be at greater risk of accident.  Whether this results in 12,700 more deaths per year would depend on how one estimates the response to higher fuel efficiency.  The NY Times report linked above has more analysis and some gems like:

  • “I don’t know how they are going to defend this analysis,” said Antonio M. Bento
  • “I think they are substantially overestimating the impact here,” Bento said
  • “It’s strange that the administration only uses this safety argument on fuel-economy standards and not for trade,” said Daniel F. Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign.

Another NY Times report has these statements:

  • “The administration’s effort to roll back these standards is a denial of basic science and a denial of American automakers’ engineering capabilities and ingenuity,” said John DeCicco, an expert on transportation technology at the University of Michigan.
  • “The case we’ll make is that the data and science do not back up what they’re trying to do,” said Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, which follows the more stringent California clean-air rules.
  • The governor of California, Jerry Brown, said his state was prepared to fight. “For Trump to now destroy a law first enacted at the request of Ronald Reagan five decades ago is a betrayal and an assault on the health of Americans everywhere,” he said.
  • Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, said, “Once again, the E.P.A. has handed decision-making to fossil fuel lobbyists and climate change deniers, while sticking the American people with the bill. Together with California, and 19 other states, my office will be suing to stop this terrible proposal.”

Public comment for 60 days

The public will have 60 days to provide feedback once published at the Federal Register. Details can be found at


As can be expected – various environmental and clean transportation organizations are crying foul and promising to fight.

Plug-in America has an online petition along with some information about the CAFE standards

Plug-in America has also promised to join a lawsuit to defend clean air standards,

“The Trump Administration is tossing away states’ rights with this unprecedented proposal, telling Americans to drive dirtier vehicles that are more expensive to fuel,” said Joel Levin, Executive Director of Plug In America. “California has historically had some of the worst air pollution in the country. The authority granted to California to set strong standards for itself and the twelve other states plus D.C. that follow its rules has led to significantly reduced air pollution. Revoking this authority doesn’t help anyone, it just hurts the American people. We will see them in court.”

Plug In America Policy Director Katherine Stainken stated, “Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is proposing to gut the Clean Air Act, which gives states legal authority for stricter standards—an authority states have had for more than 50 years. They are using debunked claims about vehicle safety to justify themselves. Enough is enough. Plug In America will be joining with other public interest and business groups in litigation to defend electric vehicles against this attack.”

Public Citizen calls the plan a “100 car pileup”

The Trump administration’s rollback of clean car standards is a disastrous wreck for consumers and the planet. Making today’s news into the equivalent of a 100-car pileup is the administration’s plan to revoke the authority for California and other states to maintain tailpipe pollution standards that are more stringent than the federal government requires. That rollback will directly affect the 113 million Americans who count on more stringent standards, forcing them to pay more at the pump and breathe dirtier air.

This proposal puts the Trump administration on a collision course with California and the supermajority of Americans who want more fuel-efficient vehicles. Americans understand and demand the twin benefits of lower gasoline bills and reduced carbon pollution. The only good news is that the administration’s course will fail – in the courts, in the political realm and the marketplace.

According to the EPA’s own analysis, automakers are meeting the clean car standards faster and more affordably than predicted, but the Trump administration’s new proposed rule would loot up to $98 billion from consumers at the gas pump. Indeed, rolling back the standards may itself increase the market price of gasoline, as demand for gas rises.

And this press release was issued jointly by at least Public Citizen and the Sierra Club,

“By slamming the brakes on these standards, Trump and his entire administration are making it clear they care more about their corporate friends than the health and safety of the American public,” said Andrew Linhardt, Deputy Advocacy Director of Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All Campaign. “The clean car standards are a crucial step in fighting climate change and ensuring the air we breathe is safe and clean. Ford and every other automaker that lobbied the administration to reverse the standards should be held accountable for putting the public in danger–and that’s exactly what we intend to do.”

“The clean car standards rollback pushed by Ford and the auto industry and announced this week by the Trump Administration is a disaster on every front,” said Madeline Page, Public Citizen’s clean cars campaign coordinator. “Our installation serves as a reminder to the Trump Administration and Ford that there are real people who will suffer because of its callous decision to put corporate profits above the public interest. That this Administration is willing to sell out our children’s health is sadly predictable, but it’s a deal that will lose—politically, in the courts, and with the American people.”

“Ford is hypocritically advertising themselves as a ‘green’ company,” said Grace Garver of the Safe Climate Campaign. “If Ford really cared about being green, they would not have kicked off this outrageous rollback. Ford has the technology to make fuel efficiency a reality. Other auto companies are making use of it. As one of the world’s largest automakers, Ford should be moving forward—innovating cars that are cleaner and more efficient and honoring its stated commitment to protect the environment. It’s time for Ford to be a leader and not a laggard.”

Environmental Defense Fund calls this a “Massive pileup of bad ideas”

“The Trump administration’s proposal to slam the brakes on America’s successful Clean Car Standards is a massive pileup of bad ideas.

“This proposal will substantially increase pollution and will cost the average American family hundreds of dollars a year extra for gas. It’s a proposal that attacks the states’ right to protect people from dangerous pollution, one that no one – not the American public, not the states, not even most automakers – really wants, and one that’s being presented to the public under the false and easily discredited guise of improving public safety.

“EDF will oppose this proposal in the court of public opinion and the court of law, and will work to secure protective Clean Car Standards for all Americans.”

The EDF also claims that Clean Cars are Safer and Cheaper to Drive

new analysis by M.J. Bradley & Associates finds that with the current Clean Car Standards in place, owners of model year 2025 cars would see net savings of up to $5,000 over the lifetime of their cars compared to model year 2020 vehicles, and trucks owners could save up to $8,000.

In contrast, the new M.J Bradley report finds that the Trump administration’s proposed rollback would cost Americans in every state. With the anticipated rollback, an average family will spend $200 more every year, and could spend as much as $500 more every year if gas prices continue to rise — with low-income and long-commuting Americans particularly hard hit.

Union of Concerned Scientists talks about 8 ridiculous things #1: Consumers will benefit from the rollback

    • Absurdity #1: Consumers will benefit from the rollback
    • Absurdity #2: More efficient vehicles will be less safe
    • Absurdity #3: The fleet will get older and travel more without the rollback (and therefore be less safe)
    • Absurdity #4: “Energy dominance” means we don’t have to worry about conserving energy
    • Absurdity #5: Zero emission vehicle standards are inherently fuel economy standards
    • Absurdity #6: Manufacturers will improve fuel economy without regulations
    • Absurdity #7: Manufacturers will put on more technology than necessary to meet the standards
    • Absurdity #8: Everyone’s going to need to drive “turbo hybrids” in 2025 if the standards aren’t rolled back

NRDC says we should speed up the transition to clean vehicles, not reverse the progress

“The Trump administration is driving our auto future in reverse. The clean car standards are already saving our families billions at the pump, supporting nearly 300,000 American jobs, and cleaning up dangerous tailpipe pollution. We need to speed up that progress, not slide backward. Let’s keep our eyes on the road–and not let Trump and his dirty deputies run us into the ditch.”



About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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  1. Pingback: Some automakers (GM etc) join Trump in fight against California – The Long Tail Pipe

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