Trump Moves Forward On Biggest Environmental Rollback To Date Amid Pandemic Chaos

Alexander C. Kaufman

The White House released the final version of its rules to roll back Obama-era auto emissions standards, taking a critical step toward completing what would be President Donald Trump’s most substantial environmental change since taking office as the novel coronavirus pandemic rages. 

The rule, called the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule and written by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, would lower fuel economy standards for vehicles sold in the United States from 54 miles per gallon by 2025 to 40 miles per gallon. 

“By reducing regulatory burdens, thereby reducing regulatory costs, we will get more Americans into new, safer, cleaner vehicles,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a call with reporters Tuesday. 

The two-digit change carries 10-digit implications for climate change. Under the new standard, which could be implemented as soon as this spring, the U.S. auto fleet would emit nearly additional 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide over their lifespans on the road than they would under the existing rule. That’s nearly the annual emissions of Japan, the world’s fifth-largest source of planet-heating carbon dioxide.

President Donald Trump pats down his hair as he speaks during the Coronavirus Task Force daily briefing on COVID-19 in the Rose Garden. (MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images)

The Trump administration insisted it was acting on behalf of American car buyers who prefer gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks to fuel-efficient cars and electric vehicles. The administration argued repeatedly since first proposing the rollback two years ago that the health benefits of decreasing air pollution from the U.S. auto fleet were dwarfed by the harm caused by discouraging the purchase of newer, safer vehicles. 

“The benefits of the final SAFE rule outweigh the costs and will result in thousands of lives saved,” Wheeler said Tuesday.

That math did not bear out when the White House first proposed its replacement to the 2012 fuel mileage rule. Yet the administration fought on anyway, dividing the auto industry between a handful of...

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