The Hill Op-Ed: Proposed Rollbacks in Vehicle Emission Limits Pose Serious Environmental Threat

by Joel Mintz

August 09, 2018

This op-ed originally ran in The Hill.

Federal laws and regulations play a crucial role determining the quality of our air, water, and natural resources. Well-researched and scientifically supported rules can bring enormous benefits to the American people, but regulatory rollbacks for little more than deregulation's sake can cause great harm.

One example of the potential damage that a poorly crafted regulation may cause is the new proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to roll back a requirement that automobile manufacturers improve vehicle fuel efficiency in the first half of the 2020s. With the rise of wind and solar energy, and the ongoing shift from coal-fired to natural-gas-fired power plants, motor vehicles are now the leading U.S. source of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change — along with other harmful air pollutants. If left in place, the current requirements would significantly reduce those harmful emissions, protecting public health while making disastrous sea level rise less likely. If reversed, the opposite would occur.

The Trump administration has also proposed to revoke a waiver granted by EPA to the state of California that allows it to set stricter vehicle emission standards. The Clean Air Act specifically provides for such waivers because parts of the state are particularly burdened by air pollution. California has consistently sought and been granted such waivers, setting relatively strict requirements for vehicle pollution. The law also allows other states to adopt California’s standards, and 12 states and the District of Columbia have done so, thus guaranteeing that cars manufactured with the California standards in mind will have a broad market.

Both of these regulatory proposals are poorly supported and of questionable legality. The Trump rollback of vehicle emission standards directly contradicts a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, which declared that greenhouse gases are a pollutant subject to EPA regulation. The rollback proposal also conflicts with an EPA finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. Moreover, the standards were the result of a negotiation between the Obama White House and the auto industry, which is probably why there wasn’t much clamoring from Detroit for a rollback.

Read the full op-ed in The Hill.

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