America's War on Tailpipe Regulations

The Orange Lord of the Underworld continues his crusade against the climate, this time targeting standards that keep American auto manufacturers in-check when it comes to polluting tailpipe emissions. Unraveling every piece of pro-environmental legislation that Barack Obama installed during his presidency seems to be a fulfilling goal in-and-of itself to Trump and seemingly also to head of the Environmental “Protection” Agency, Scott Pruitt. Protecting what again, Pruitt? Certainly not the environment.

Since the 1950’s, American auto manufacturers have been at war with policymakers and environmental groups, pushing for relaxed rules that allow them to put out the cheapest, quickest, highest-polluting vehicles to the American people. A collection of excuses have been championed over the years; decade after decade, auto manufacturers yell loud and angrily against the suggestion that one of the highest polluting industries regulate their contribution to climate change and poor air quality.

“It can’t be done”

“It will cost too much”

“It will kill jobs and destroy the industry”

Old and tired, these excuses are still Trumpeted loudly in 2018, and the war continues.

It can’t be done? Do auto manufacturers really have so little faith in their engineers and technology that they truly believe that they can’t make even the smallest of advances towards more efficient vehicles? History would beg to differ. Virtually every step towards fuel efficiency has been fought tooth and nail by industry. It really seems there is NO step too small for auto-manufacturers to rally against (including the minuscule raise of light-truck fleet standards from 20.7 mpg to 21 mpg in 2005, which of course the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers deemed “extremely challenging”)

And yet, time after time as legislature passes requiring industry to make these kinds of changes, improvements are suddenly able to be made in dramatically less time than projected, at dramatically lower costs, with jobs remaining stable. Every time they find a way, and every time they continue to cry that every improvement is impossible and will break the back of the industry.  

My personal favourite doomsday cry came from Stephanie Williams of the California Trucking Association in 1997 in response to the proposed strengthening of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS): “It would cause suffering and possible death to nearly 44 million people. Citizens would be unable to drive to work. Public transportation would be crippled. Children would be unable to attend school. Hospitals would be unable to obtain medical supplies, and there would be no way to get food to grocery stores”.

To be clear… she’s not saying that poor air quality, smog, or climate change would cause this carnage, but a stronger air quality standard. Needless to say, this did not happen. 

This battle seemed to finally reach a positive resolution under the leadership of Barack Obama. In 2009, automakers were heavily involved in the creation of a historic national fuel efficiency policy that satisfied the needs of everyone involved, including automakers. For the first time, everyone was on the same page with what was possible for vehicles of the future.

"A supposedly 'unsolvable' problem was solved by unprecedented partnerships. As a result, we will keep Americans healthier, cut tons of pollution from the air we breathe, and make a lasting down payment on cutting our greenhouse gas emissions" - EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

Unfortunately, this productive and positive agreement seemed to falter the minute that the Orange Lord managed to situate himself in the White House. Automakers immediately recognized their opportunity to revert to old ways and seized it, sending letters to EPA director Pruitt asking for “relief” of the standards that they had helped set as they had suddenly become too challenging and unreasonable.

“This is certainly a big deal. The result will be more gas-guzzling vehicles on the road, greater total gasoline consumption, and a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions.” -Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard environmental economics program

As of now, we’re waiting for an official announcement that the EPA will roll back the greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards to appease the supposed strife of American automakers, but the wheels are in motion. It seems very likely that California and several other states will independently continue to enforce stronger standards that protect their air and their people, but it's possible that Trump will try to attack individual state's ability to set their own regulations. One step forward, 3 steps back. 'Round and round we go!