Trump Administration Overturns Unsafe Obama Automobile Standards

by | Apr 7, 2020 |

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In 2012, the Obama administration mandated a draconian and dangerous mileage standard for American automobiles, an upgraded and severe version of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards previously in place. Each manufacturer’s total fleet of cars was to achieve an average of 46.7 miles per gallon (mpg) by the year 2026. 
There was no new technology on the horizon to achieve this impractical goal. Therefore, every company had to take all the excess protective weight from many of their internal combustion-engined cars or they had to manufacture enough electric cars to bring their average mileage up to the new standard. Former President Barack Obama’s CAFE also limited the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for each car each year through 2026.
Obama’s approach was never about making driving less expensive or safer. It was always about getting gasoline-powered cars off the road, to be replaced by electric cars, and, in the process, throwing consumer safety to the wind. Underlying all of this was, of course, their belief that CO2 produced by human activity was causing dangerous climate change.

The Obama administration was effectively in partnership with overzealous environmental groups who never cared about public safety or economics. The long-term goal was simply to eliminate the use of fossil fuels at all costs.

That goal was no longer just hidden in the terrible CAFE legislation; it became their openly admitted goal. Fortunately, they are no longer in power and the Trump administration has enabled a new CAFE rule which, to a considerable extent, repairs the damage.
The new legislation, promulgated jointly by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is called the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule. SAFE sets standards for both passenger vehicles and light trucks for model years 2021 through 2026.
In contrast to the requirements mandated by Obama that there needed to be about a 5% reduction per year in CO2 emissions, President Donald Trump is only insisting on 1.5% per year. Even that is unnecessary, of course, since CO2 is not a pollutant, but it is a significantly less onerous target than existed previously and at least provides regulatory certainty by establishing one set of standards for passenger cars and light trucks.
The new regulation also requires manufacturers to achieve an average mileage efficiency for all its vehicles of 40.4 mpg, a high standard indeed but at least not as severe as Obama’s CAFE mandated 46.7 mpg. Before reaching the aforementioned requirements, the EPA and NHTSA worked together for nearly two years to analyze automobile and fuel technologies and evaluated 750,000 public comments and held three public meetings. Whether automobile manufacturers can achieve the 40.4 mpg standard is questionable but, unlike CAFE, it is at least possible. The senior writer of this article, Dr. Jay Lehr has driven a small gasoline powered car for the past eight years and it generally gets 40 mpg.
While one shouldn’t blindly accept positive projections from government regulators, we are told that the SAFE Vehicle Rule will increase U.S. competitiveness in the automobile field by reducing regulatory costs by as much as $100 billion through 2029 and increase sales during that same period by 2.7 million new vehicles. This should provide help for millions of American workers and thousands of businesses in the auto sector and related industries. According to the EPA press release, we would also see the following benefits:

  • “required technology costs would be reduced by $86 to $126 billion over the lifetimes of vehicles through MY [manufacturing year] 2029”
  • “$200 billion reduction in total costs over the lifetimes of vehicles through MY 2029, including the value of increased safety”
  • “$1,400 reduction of total consumer cost of ownership per new vehicle”

It is also estimated that, as a result of this rule change, the average new vehicle price will decline by a $1,000 making it easier for Americans to afford to buy new vehicles. This would have a huge impact on vehicle safety since, on average, Americans are now driving 12-year-old cars, and virtually every new vehicle exceeds the built-in safety features of older cars. NHTSA research shows that the SAFE Vehicle Rule will result in a reduction in:

  • crash fatalities by over 3,000
  • injuries by nearly 400,000 
  • close to 2 million damaged vehicles 

…over the life of vehicles built according to the new standards.
If this is all correct, then it would be the most effective replacement of a regulation in Trump’s term in office. It is hard to argue with the statement by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao on March 31 that, “Today, President Trump is keeping his promise to autoworkers made three years ago that he would reinvigorate American auto manufacturing by updating costly, increasingly unachievable fuel economy and vehicle CO2 emissions standards, and that is what the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule accomplishes.”
Image: Reuters

Dr. Jay Lehr and Tom Harris

Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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Dave James
Dave James
2 years ago

As Mr. Tom Harris and Dr. Jay Lehr acknowledge in their by-line, both are associates of the Heartland Institute. From their opinion piece, it is obvious that one of their major roles is to promote the Heartland Institute’s political agenda. In this article, Dr. Lehr & Mr. Harris full endorse the Trump adminstration’s to allow cars to emit more pollution but even the automakers, the obvious winners from the proposal, balked. The changes, they said, went too far even for them.
Dr. Lehr and Mr. Harris claim they are non-partisan and interested in science but their opinion pieces tell a different story. Mr. Harris wrote in comments, “The fact that we boost Trump’s position on prosperity and the environment is not partisan.” (Source “Real Environmentalists Should Support Trump – Here Is Why” By Dr. Jay Lehr & Tom Harris, Mar 3, 2020. America Out Loud)
Mr. Harris and Dr. Lehr assertion about President Trump’s role back of CAFE standards is not accurate. There are many problems with Trump’s proposal among them: 1) The agencies were forced to abandon their cost-benefit analysis from the initial proposed rule, as it was riddled with errors. And now they have been forced to finalize a rule that shows net costs to society. 2) The agencies have overestimated the impact of fuel efficiency improvements on car prices by ignoring various compliance options available to manufacturers. 3) The agencies have underestimated the climate damages caused by the rollback, through the use of an arbitrary calculation of the social cost of carbon. 4)The agencies significantly overstate the extent to which rolling back the Clean Car Standards will lead to less pollution, less congestion, and fewer accidents as consumers drive less etc…(Source “Key Economic Errors in the Clean Car Standards Rollback Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, Apr 1, 2020)
Eventually, the Trump administration will have to defend this sloppy role-back rule in court. It must explain to judges why it made the decisions it did and what kind of data and analysis supported those decisions; otherwise, the court could rule it “arbitrary and capricious. The errors in the administration’s analysis are legion, and not subtle:

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