After hinting that it would roll back clean vehicle regulations last month, the Trump administration made it official on Thursday. It announced it would be putting Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards on hold and moving to replace them with watered-down regulations.
The plan calls for 2020 fuel-efficiency standards to be frozen in place through 2026 while sorting out what a new rule could look like, as well as ending California's ability to set its own, more stringent standards. The end result will be a huge uptick in carbon emissions.
The Obama rules were made in 2012 after consultation with the auto industry and would have increased car fuel-efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2026. The new proposal — announced by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation — would freeze efficiency standards at 43.7 mpg through model year 2026.
California has the ability to set even stricter standards for auto emissions, thanks to a waiver the EPA granted the state in 2013. There are a dozen other states that follow those standards as well. Revoking that waiver, despite the EPA commitment to "cooperative federalism," is an, uh, odd move.
Robbie Orvis, an analyst with policy research group Energy Innovation, told Earther that revoking California's waiver is "not in the spirit of the Clean Air Act, and the way it's been implemented in the past."
On an existential front, the new rule proposal will commit a hell of a lot more carbon to the atmosphere. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that it will result in an extra 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere in 2030. That's the equivalent of adding 30 coal-fired power plants to the grid.
Because people are likely to hang onto their cars for many years, the impacts would continue to play out beyond 2030. An analysis by Energy Innovation found that by 2035, U.S. transportation emissions will be 11 per cent higher than they would be if the Obama-era standards and California's waiver were kept in place.
The move will also put the U.S. behind the curve globally. While our weirdo climate-denying president obviously doesn't care about the atmosphere or having a habitable planet, other countries do. And they have responded by putting in place stringent fuel efficiency standards, including many based on those in California.
The rollback ensures that the U.S. will be spinning its wheels on climate while the rest of the world forges ahead. That could have very real impacts on the fate of U.S. automakers viability and profits as they produce a wider range of cars. It could also inspire countries to be less ambitious.
"The top vehicle standards in the rest of the world are in line with existing standards," Orvis said, referring to the Obama-era standards. "Undoing this will make U.S. automakers less competitive with automakers in other markets who are moving ahead making more efficient vehicles. It's moving us in the wrong direction and making us less competitive with the rest of the world."
It will, however, have a major benefit to one stakeholder: the companies that produce and sell the fossil fuels that vehicles run on (for now anyways). The new standards would cause U.S. oil consumption to soar by 20 per cent, according to the Energy Innovation analysis.