Three Big Automakers Pushed For Rollbacks of Obama Era Fuel Efficiency Standards

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Even as they tout their environmental cred, three big automakers push the Trump administration to enact the SAFE vehicle rule and rollback Obama-era vehicle fuel efficiency standards. It's hard to maintain credibility when such a move will lead to as many as 32,000 deaths from increased air pollution and cost Americans up to $100 billion in increased fuel costs.

Three big automakers not only back President Trump’s rollback of federal fuel efficiency standards but they pushed for those rollbacks. Those three automakers are General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Toyota, and they also supported his attempt to overturn California’s separate standards, which are similar to Obama era standards.

The Environmental Working Group sent an open letter to the CEOs of GM, Fiat Chrysler, and Toyota. In 2008, the federal government handed General Motors and Chrysler an $80.7 billion bailout, the letter points out. A commitment to make fuel efficiency better was a condition of the bailout. In 2011, the Obama administration announced an agreement with GM, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, and other automakers to increase the average fuel efficiency of their vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Less than a month after Trump took office, the Auto Alliance, of which the three automakers are a part, pushed for a rollback of Obama fuel efficiency standards requiring a 54.5 miles per gallon standard for 2025 year model vehicles.

The three automakers disregard the health benefits of stricter standards

In late March, the Trump administration announced the finalization of the rollbacks of the standards with the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule. The new rule sets fuel efficiency for 2025 vehicles at 40.4 mpg. The new rule also sets carbon emissions standards for 2021 to 2026 vehicles by 1.5 percent each year, as opposed to five percent under Obama-era standards.

The letter to the CEOs of the three automakers tells them that they “are complicit in Trump’s reckless abandonment of the nation’s most significant initiative to combat the climate crisis and the public health impacts of tailpipe emissions.” 

A report by Resources for the Future proves what the letter tells the automakers. The report looked at the benefits of the Obama era fuel efficiency standards. 

“The standards have reduced greenhouse gas emissions at a cost of $6 per metric ton of carbon dioxide (accounting for consumer internalities), implying that standards have raised social welfare,” according to the report.

Another report cites the damage the SAFE Vehicles rule does to people’s health. Up to 32,000 people across the country will die prematurely from an increase in fine particle pollution, the report states. Millions of other people are expected to develop respiratory illnesses, worsening asthma, and heart attacks. The health problems will be experienced by people in every state but in some states in the country, like California, the impacts will be worse.

As Greenpeace USA Senior Climate Campaigner Caroline Henderson said, “Rolling back fuel efficiency standards will increase disease-causing particulate matter and worsen the global climate emergency.”

In addition to being better for the environment and human health, better standards save Americans money. Analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that Obama era regulations have saved American drivers more than $100 billion at the gas pump. In other words, automakers have complied with regulations and saved Americans money.

The three automakers tout their sustainability creds

While GM, Fiat Chrysler, and Toyota pushed the Trump administration to roll back standards, they continued to tout their sustainability credentials. GM states that for almost a decade it “has been working to mitigate the effects of and increase awareness of climate change,” 

Fiat Chrysler claims to “recognize that our environmental and social activities affect not only our aspiration to grow the business but also our commitment to positively affect our world.” 

Toyota claims to “strongly believe that there is no future for cars unless we respond to environmental issues, and we have engaged in car-manufacturing accordingly.”

All the words about sustainability by those companies are dwarfed by their push to roll back the fuel efficiency standards. As the adage says, actions speak louder than words.

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