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Trump Administration Finalizes Fuel Economy Standards Rollback, A Key Policy Goal


The Trump administration's deregulatory agenda continues. Today the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rollback of Obama-era fuel economy standards. This substantially weakens one of the country's biggest efforts to fight climate change. NPR's Nathan Rott reports.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: You wouldn't think it now with most of the country staying at home, but transportation is the largest source of climate-warming greenhouse gases in the country. That's why the Obama administration mandated that auto manufacturers continue to make more fuel-efficient cars. President Trump has taken aim at that mandate, as he has most of Obama's climate policies. And now he has his replacement - a rule that significantly weakens future standards and should, the administration says, make for cheaper cars. Here's Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao during today's announcement.


ELAINE CHAO: In essence, it will make newer vehicles more affordable to consumers, safer for passengers and cleaner for the environment.

ROTT: Idea being that cheaper sticker prices means more people will buy newer, safer, more efficient vehicles and save money in the doing.

ANN CARLSON: The problem with that argument is that more fuel-efficient cars are cheaper for consumers over the long run.

ROTT: Ann Carlson is an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

CARLSON: So when you actually do the math, even if you pay a little bit more upfront, you save a lot more over the lifetime of the car.

ROTT: That's just one of the problems with the math the administration has used to justify this change. Even the EPA's own scientific advisory council slammed earlier versions of the rule, saying the agency's underlying technical analysis contained significant weaknesses. Antonio Bento, a professor of policy and economics at the University of Southern California, says that's because the administration is cherry-picking numbers to support this rollback. For example, the EPA says this change will save thousands of lives because people will be in newer, safer cars. But to reach that number, they're assuming a car will be driven for 40 years.

ANTONIO BENTO: Which is also a not-calculation (ph) because if you think about it, vehicles don't last that long.

ROTT: In fact, in today's announcement, the EPA says the average age of vehicles on the road right now is the highest it's ever been at 12 years. Numbers like that are sure to come up in lawsuits challenging the change. More immediately, Bento and others say, the announcement, which will lead to dirtier air, is tone deaf, given the country is dealing with a pandemic affecting people's lungs.

Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
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