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Rolling back car pollution rules is a bad idea

August 21, 2018

The Trump administration’s plan to freeze future anti-pollution and fuel economy standards is so bad, even auto manufacturers are against it.

Instead of aiming for the sky, pushing for innovation and ingenuity, President Donald Trump’s plan would freeze average fuel economy after 2021 to 37 miles per gallon. This would be down from 54 miles per gallon in 2025, under an agreement reached in 2012 with President Barack Obama.

It’s a shortsighted and deeply flawed view. Environmental groups are concerned about the effects on climate change. California is concerned about the prospect of revocation of its federal waiver that allows the state to set stricter standards. Transportation safety experts have questioned the administration’s logic that relaxing fuel economy standards will save thousands of lives.

But it’s the opposition by auto manufacturers that stands out as a reflection of this plan’s deep flaws.

Yes, the industry wanted more leeway to achieve these aggressive fuel economy standards. But the industry has been clear for months now that manufacturers supported improving the fuel economy standard each year.

The Trump plan ignores this desire to maintain improvements in fuel economy and instead shifts the industry into regulatory uncertainty. A number of state attorneys general have announced plans to sue should the rule be finalized. Chief would be California, which was granted a waiver in 1970 because the state grapples with air pollution woes far great than other states.

A prolonged lawsuit would leave auto manufacturers in limbo about fuel standards. It could also pave the way for two fuel economy standards in this country, a redundancy that makes no sense. Ford and General Motors have been outspoken about the need for one fuel standard.

There is no clear rationale for such a regulatory rollback. There is no evidence this move will prevent thousands of traffic fatalities. The environmental consequences of not curbing greenhouse consequences would be dire.

It’s also a plan that reflects American retreat from innovation and ingenuity. This is a nation that strives to meet challenges, not one that freezes at a particular moment in time.

Administration officials should heed the warnings from experts — and the pleas from the auto manufacturing industry — and maintain increasing fuel economy standards in a way that also recognizes market realities.

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