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Reaction To Trump EPA Relaxing Obama-Era Auto Fuel Efficiency

Composite image by Dave Lucas/WAMC

In mid-March, President Donald Trump told an audience in Detroit that he would roll back vehicle emissions standards established by President Barack Obama’s executive order on fuel mandates. This week Trump made good on his promise.

The Trump administration announced plans Monday to relax fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards established in 2012 for American cars that aimed to bring average motor vehicle mileage to above 50 miles per gallon by 2025.  New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called the rollback "illegal." Amy Spitalnick is the Democrat’s press secretary.   "For years the EPA has had these standards for auto emissions which were meant to both control the pollution going out into our atmosphere and also protect Americans' pocketbooks. These emissions standards are meant to ensure that vehicles are fuel efficient and that they work well for the environment and for our wallets. After a very long evaluation process, EPA determined in January 2017 that these standards that had been proposed for the upcoming years were appropriate, were effective in terms of the availability of technology would actually reduce costs to consumers and manufacturers and would make sense for a whole variety of issues. A couple of months later when the Trump administration came into office they announced that they would review these standards and earlier this week EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the standards were "too high."  What this amounts to is the Trump administration cooking the books on the auto emission standards that has been the baseline and the expected plan for years."

Mark LaBel is a Boston-based staff attorney for the Acadia Center, a non-profit that works on clean energy and climate issues in the Northeast. He says the EPA announcement is just a small step in a much longer process.    "First they have to reverse a determination that the Obama administration made last January right before Trump took office. And the next step would be to have a regulatory process to determine what the new standards would be. So it's possible that some groups will be able to sue them for the determination that just took place, but there will definitely be a legal strategy to resist the weakening of the standards, which would be the next step."

Spitalnick outlines New York's agenda.   "This rollback is reckless, it's illegal, it will hurt both our environment and New Yorkers' pocketbooks and it is not in our best interests. So Attorney General Schneiderman is ready to take legal action if necessary to block it."

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee says his state will continue to be a leader in setting its own emission standards.

LaBel points out there are a wide variety of reasons that both corporate-driven fossil fuel interests and carmakers dislike the Obama-era standards.    "Car manufacturers are also not enthusiastic about stringent fuel economy requirements. They find it easier to sell large SUVs and large trucks. And they want to maximize the number of those they could sell without any interference. In general, as the standards ramped up over time, I think the car companies were afraid they couldn't sell as many trucks."

Spitalnick adds "I think that in general what we've seen from the Trump EPA is a whole host of rollbacks of environmental protections that have kept our air cleaner, our water cleaner, and have saved New Yorkers money through these efficiency standards, and over the last year the Trump EPA has rolled back basic protections and standards over and over again, and all this does is harm our environment and harm our pocketbooks."

Schneiderman is leading a coalition of 15 attorneys general and the city of Chicago, in suing the Trump administration. The suit claims the White House is ignoring its legal duty to control emissions of methane from existing oil and gas operations.  Specifically, the suit charges that EPA Administrator Pruitt has violated the federal Clean Air Act.

The suit may be viewed here. It was filed Thursday morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and the City of Chicago.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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