Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler touted Donald Trump’s looser emission standards for vehicles as an environmental win today despite the rule change meaning millions more tonnes of CO2 being added to the global warming crisis.
Mr Obama’s rule aimed to encourage auto makers to boost production of electric vehicles and make gas and diesel vehicles more fuel-efficient.
On Tuesday, in the final version of the “Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles” (SAFE) rule, emissions standards were lowered from the 5% annual increase required under the Obama rule to 1.5% each year until 2026.
The rule was laid out in a 2,000 page document from the EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Department of Transportation (DOT).
It estimated that under the previous 2012 standards “passenger car and light truck annual gasoline consumption” would decline to 80bn gallons by 2050. Because of the decrease in gas, annual CO2 emissions would also decline to 1,000 million metric tons (mmt) by mid-century.
Today’s rollback means gas consumption won’t decline as fast, hitting 95bn gallons by 2050, and annual CO2 emissions will be 1,100mmt. That means an extra 100mmt of CO2 emissions.
Gas consumption and CO2 emissions will not go down “quite as rapidly as under the previously-issued standards”, the Trump administration’s rule admits.
According to the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), at our current rate of CO2 emissions we have around eight years left in which we have a shot of staying within 1.5C of global warming. Beyond this point, our world will see unprecedented and catastrophic changes, the scientific community has warned.
The Independent asked the EPA about the increase in CO2 emissions under the new rule. The agency did not respond at the time of publication.
Former coal lobbyist Mr Wheeler, Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao and NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens made the announcement.
Ms Chao called the standards set by the Obama administration “unachievable” and called the “historic” update “a win, win, win situation”.
She said the Trump administration’s decision will save thousands of lives from car crashes because the new rule means Americans will replace older, less safe vehicles with new, safer models.
Exposure to ambient air pollution, particularly to fine particles, was associated with lower levels of bone mass (Getty Images)
Consumers could expect to save more than a $1,000 on the price of a new car, the agency heads said in a press briefing.
The average price of a new vehicle is currently $38,000, according to the data cited.
Ms Chao added: “This means that millions of new vehicles will now be more affordable to consumers, more will be sold and it will be good for the economy as well.”
Mr Wheeler said “air pollution will go down” and that “new vehicles will continue to be subject to the strict pollution standards of the Clean Air Act”.
“The newer vehicles will be better for the environment than the vehicles that they replace,” he added.
Opponents say it will kill several hundred more Americans a year through dirtier air, compared to the Obama standards.
CEO of the American Lung Association, Harold P. Wimmer said that the decision “disregards public health”.
In a statement, Wimmer said: “The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Cleaner, more efficient vehicles and electric vehicles are key to safeguarding our most vulnerable, including children, older adults and people living with chronic diseases, who will suffer the impacts of climate change the most.”
Anne Idsal, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator, at the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said it was inaccurate that “hundreds of people will die each year from air pollution due to this rule” and called it a “cherry picked” statistic.
Seth Gladstone, media director of environmental group Food & Water Watch, told The Independent: “In the midst of an overwhelming public health crisis that specifically attacks human respiratory function, the Trump administration is seeking to roll back standards meant to improve air quality.
“This is patently absurd and downright shameful – to say nothing of the impact this decision could have on our perilous climate condition. Trump is in this presidency to enrich his corporate polluter friends. He cares nothing for the rest of us.”
Trump’s administration has marched on with roll backs in public health and environment regulations while the country’s attention is focused on the coronavirus outbreak.
The administration – like others before it – is facing procedural rules that will make changes adopted before the last six months of Trump’s current term tougher to throw out, even if the White House changes occupants.
The standards have split the auto industry with Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen siding with California and agreeing to higher standards.
Other auto makers contend the Obama-era standards were enacted hastily and will be impossible to meet because consumers have shifted dramatically away from efficient cars to SUVs and trucks.
California and about a dozen other states say they will continue resisting the Trump mileage standards in court.
Mr Owens said today that they were prepared to fight the legal challenges in court.
The Trump administration standards are likely to cause havoc in the auto industry because due to expected legal challenges, auto makers won’t know which standards they will have to obey.
“It will be extraordinarily disruptive,” said Richard J. Pierce Jr., a law professor at the George Washington University who specialises in government regulations.
Associated Press contributed to this report