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It’s Not Just About Mileage: 3 Reasons Fuel Economy Standards Matter

It’s time to shake off the outrage fatigue. The EPA’s plan to roll back ambitious fuel economy standards is a big deal with real consequences for the planet and the health of . . . well, pretty much all Americans.


We’re right there with you. When you live in a moment where every day’s headlines seem to involve a new attack on the environment, communities of color, or just our basic sense of right and wrong, it’s hard to know what still rises to the level of outrage. After all, these days, what doesn’t?

To put it another way, when children are being cruelly kept separated from their parents, how can we get upset about something like fuel economy standards for cars and trucks?

Here at Climate Reality, we look at it as a both/and kind of answer. Admittedly, the recent announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it wants to roll back the Obama Administration’s ambitious fuel economy standards might seem like just another small bureaucratic win for the fossil fuel industry.

But if it goes through – and it’s important to stress that if – the consequences for our health, our children’s health, and the planet could be profound.

>> Speak up for strong fuel economy standards that protect our health and our planet <<

What’s the Big Deal?

Under the Obama Administration, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alongside the automakers themselves, set new guidelines requiring auto manufacturers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles to a level that would raise the average fuel economy across their fleet of cars and trucks to 34.1 miles per gallon by 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025.

The Trump Administration’s new plan has two critical – and dangerous – components. First, the plan would repeal the previous standards and freeze fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels.

Second, the plan would also revoke California’s legal right to set its own fuel economy standards, as permitted under the Clean Air Act. California secured the waiver to do so back in 1970 as the federal government recognized the state faced a unique and acute challenge in limiting smog and other airborne pollutants.

As far back as the 1940s, the state was already working to tackle air pollution from vehicles. Speed ahead many years, and the fuel economy waiver has become a critical part of California’s equally aggressive action on climate change.

Given California’s car market share (more vehicles are registered in California than any other state and it now ranks as the world’s fifth-largest economy) and the fact that at least 14 other states, representing about 40 percent of American cars, have officially signed up to follow its more-ambitious standards, the state has tremendous power to influence the kinds of vehicles that automakers build. Which gives it tremendous power to help cut emissions on a national scale.

As the saying goes, as California goes, so goes the nation. Well, almost.

By freezing national standards at the lower 2020 levels and preventing California from going above and beyond, the Trump Administration is seeking to eliminate two critical tools for fighting greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. On top of its plans to replace the Clean Power Plan with a coal-friendly initiative and withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.

Putting aside the nonsensical and contradictory reasons the administration gave, the move is especially troubling for three reasons that affect all Americans.

Attack on Clean Cars

The Trump Administration is waging war on cleaner cars – and we're not standing for it.

Posted by Climate Reality on Thursday, August 23, 2018

Why It Matters: Fighting Climate Change

Today, the US transportation sector is the country’s biggest contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions driving the climate crisis, accounting for over 28 percent of all emissions.

Passenger vehicles like cars and trucks account for just one part of this sector’s emissions, but they’re the biggest part (contributing over half of the sector’s emissions, in fact). Increasing fuel efficiency means vehicles burning less gas and sending less global warming pollution into the atmosphere.

At a time when burning fossil fuels has sent temperatures skyrocketing across the planet and all signs point to consequences from more extreme weather to rising seas continuing unless we act, radically reducing tailpipe emissions could help the US make a big step forward in solving this crisis.

Why It Matters: Your Health

The list of pollutants and chemicals in car and truck emissions makes for an unsettling read. Fine particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxides that contribute to smog, sulfur dioxide, and more: they’re all coming out of tailpipes and into the air we breathe.

The names of these chemicals may not be familiar, but the results will be. Greater risks of cancer and all kinds of respiratory diseases. Increasing asthma attacks. Worst of all, these pollutants affect those whose lungs and systems are already weak or haven’t reached full strength – children, the elderly, and the sick – most of all.

The implications couldn’t be clearer. Cleaner and more efficient cars mean cleaner air for all of us. Cleaner cars mean cutting our risk of the kinds of diseases that transform lives and leave kids gasping for breath.

Before the announcement, “Who wants dirtier air?” always felt like a rhetorical question. Now, apparently, we have an answer: The White House.

Why It Matters: Saving Money

You don’t have to be a rock star economist to get that fuel-efficient cars are cheaper cars to operate. Burning less gas to go the same distance means spending less money at the pump and less money going to the fossil fuel companies helping drive the climate crisis.

It’s the kind of issue that Americans of all political ideologies can agree on. In fact, in 2016, a poll by a division of Consumer Reports found that 70 percent of Americans want the government to play a role in setting increasingly ambitious fuel economy standards.

It’s not hard to see why. After all, for the majority of Americans, fuel costs are not an abstract concern – for most of us, transportation is the second highest expense we have, right after housing.

To put some hard numbers on it, the Obama Administration’s standards were projected to save Americans $1.7 trillion in fuel costs by 2025. Bringing these numbers down to street level, the standards were expected to save a family who bought a new car in 2025 an estimated $8,200 over the lifetime of the vehicle.

Weaker standards mean Americans will spend more of their paycheck just to get to work, to take their kids to school, and live their lives. The only ones who benefit here are fossil fuel companies – and it just doesn’t make sense.

So What’s Next and What Can You Do?

First of all, these new, weaker standards aren’t a done deal. Americans have the chance to weigh in and tell the administration what they think during the official comment period.

Already, thousands have joined us in calling for preserving the stricter standards – and if you want cleaner air to breathe, cheaper cars to drive, and a more sustainable future to look forward to, add your name to our petition today.

Plus, at the same time Americans are speaking up for strong fuel economy standards, California and other states are launching lawsuits to fight the administration’s plan in the court.

The bottom line: this fight is only just beginning.