Around two dozen states, including California, are suing the Trump administration to block a rollback of fuel-efficiency standard for cars and trucks. The states say the decision puts public health at risk and is based on inaccurate science.
The action marks California’s 82nd suit against the administration. Many are about Trump's plans to water down or get rid of environmental regulations to help the economy.
“President Trump is keeping his promise to autoworkers made three years ago that he would reinvigorate American auto manufacturing by updating costly, increasingly unachievable fuel economy and vehicle CO2 emissions standards,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao in late March, when the final rules were released.
The suit, by around two dozen states, the District of Columbia and a few cities, says the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicle rule isn't efficient or safe because it puts human health at risk.
“Not only does the SAFE rule fail to live up to its name, but the administration introduced it at a time when our nation's health and economy can least afford it,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Wednesday.
The change reduces Obama-era rules that required automakers to increase fuel efficiency by 5% and lowers it to 1.5% for vehicle models from 2021-2026. It also requires automakers to create vehicles that reach 40 miles per gallon by 2026 instead of 54 by 2025.
“Our final rule puts in place a sensible one national program that strikes the right regulatory balance that protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry,” said U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in March.
The national standard, Becerra said, could result in around 900 million more tons of carbon dioxide from cars burning 78 billion more gallons of fuel.
“[They] claim this rule will save lives, but the administration significantly underestimates the thousands of lives that will be lost due to increased air pollution from the rule,” said Becerra. “The so called SAFE rule will result in 250,000 more asthma attacks, and 350,000 more respiratory elements.
The California Air Resources Board helped develop the Obama-era rules, which were the result of years of analysis between the federal agencies and California. The state’s suit claims the rollbacks by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency bypass congressional requirements, break the law and include statistical errors used to manipulate data, CARB officials said in a release.
“The Trump administration wants to take us back to a time of increased air pollution, which will have devastating effects on public health,” said CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld. “We can’t afford any more kids with asthma, especially given the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic.”
CARB officials say keeping ambitious pollution standards are important as climate change worsens and will help keep California’s economy sustainable. This is important because transportation — cars, trucks, busses and trains — make up 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions in California.
“The federal agencies used questionable science, faulty logic and ludicrous assumptions to justify what they wanted from the start: to gut and rewrite the single most important air regulation of the past decade,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “Despite all the hype, this rule is a loss for America, as evidenced by their own analysis.”
She says the national rule could also result in losses of jobs for the automobile industry and will have a negative impact on human health.
At least 11 health and environmental advocacy groups are also suing, saying the rollback will “increase harmful pollution, cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, and cost consumers billions of dollars at the gas pump,” said Environmental Defense Fund lead attorney Peter Zalzal.
They also say the rollback will “worsen the climate crisis” and poison people, animals and plants.
“It’s despicable for Trump to take advantage of the pandemic to slash environmental protections, knowing this virus preys on people with health problems linked to dirty air,” said Katherine Hoff, a Los Angeles-based attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We hope a court agrees that this rollback is as illegal as it is dangerous.”
The group claims the administration failed to consult agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which is required by the Endangered Species Act. Hoff notes that these agencies found that “human-caused climate change is a current or potential threat to more than 70% of all species listed from 2012 to 2015.”
California has its own pollution rules that the federal government aims to remove. But the state and environmental groups sued last fall over the attempt to block California. That case is ongoing.
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