Celebrating Clean Car Standards’ Five-year Anniversary: Don’t Mess with Success

by Ann Mesnikoff

Five years ago this month, the Obama administration’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency, along with California, issued national Clean Car Standards. These standards were meant to ensure that new cars, minivans and pickups sold between 2017 and 2025 would use less gasoline to travel a mile and emit less climate pollution out of the tailpipe.

Setting standards through 2025 was intended to give the auto industry a clear, long-term direction for innovating and putting technologies to work. When those standards were finalized in 2012 they had the support of the auto industry, labor, and public health groups – and ELPC! Unfortunately, these well-designed standards are threatened by the Trump administration’s assault on Clean Cars. ELPC has been working hard over the last month to oppose this rollback.

When EPA started its attack on tailpipe standards in August, we noted that “If fully implemented, the EPA and DOT’s standards would save families up to $122 billion at the pump, save more than 12 billion barrels of oil and keep 6 billion metric tons of dangerous carbon pollution out of the atmosphere.”

EPA held a public hearing in Washington, D.C., and I made sure EPA heard loud and clear that Clean Car Standards matter in the Midwest. They are a key policy in reducing the threats climate change poses to the Great Lakes and the region. They are driving innovation and job growth in the clean car sector. Across the Midwest, there are a total of 151,714 jobs in 480 facilities associated with making cleaner vehicles, according to a recent Blue Green Alliance and NRDC analysis. Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio top the list.

I reminded EPA that “Every action the United States takes to reduce greenhouse gas pollution is critical. Emissions from the transportation sector now surpass those from power plants and EPA has an obligation under the Clean Air Act to protect public health and welfare – this decisively includes action on greenhouse gases.” ELPC made sure EPA heard from our members and supporters across the Great Lakes states and beyond.

The Department of Transportation has also launched its attack on clean cars. Together with EPA, DOT had made clear that it is looking at weakening standards and diminishing the oil savings, consumer benefits and innovations anticipated when they were issued back in 2012.

The Midwest region alone stands to save approximately 55 billion gallons of oil through 2030 with full implementation of the standards. Again, ELPC made sure that DOT heard from our members and supporters that it should continue with strong Clean Car Standards.

It is not surprising that the auto industry weighed in, complaining that the standards whose fifth anniversary we celebrate this month are now too strong. One of the groups representing a large swath of the auto industry, the Auto Alliance, whose tagline is ironically “driving innovation,” submitted lengthy comments on all the reasons the standards now demand too much of them. The industry is saying it needs more “flexibility” and  “credits” that make it easier for them to comply but actually undermine the goals of oil savings and climate and public health benefits.

Their complaints today are a complete about-face considering the auto industry helped formulate the 2012 standards. And, when DOT and EPA, again with California, compiled a detailed report about how the industry was advancing technologically, they found automakers were adopting fuel-saving technologies at an “unprecedented rate.” And recently, in the Detroit News, the International Council for Clean Transportation, based on their own analysis, confirmed just that — that automakers continue  “to play technology leapfrog at an astounding rate.”

Celebrating Clean Car standards is just as important as fighting to protect them. It gives us an opportunity to remind the current administration’s disrupters that these standards are pushing the industry to innovate and we are all benefitting from the resulting oil savings and reduced pollution. Urging EPA and DOT to keep their standards strong is essential.

At the EPA’s daylong public hearing last month, officials listened to overwhelming support for keeping standards strong. The voices ranged from environmental and public health groups to retired generals and religious leaders. Representatives of today’s youth spoke up too.   I was proud that one of them was my daughter.  She spoke about the future and the cars she and her peers may one day buy. Weakening standards, she told them, would be insane.

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