One of the more frustrating things that has affected me during this pandemic is news. I am used to a certain level of focus on certain stories over others in the news cycle. I understand that some stories are more important, more wide-reaching, more world-affecting than others. But the amount of coverage focused on COVID-19 has been, to me, completely overwhelming and inundating.
I must search hard to find a story that is not about running out of respirators, the current administration’s incompetence, death tolls, curve flattening and grocery hoarding. Every article on the front page, every opinion piece scribed, every talking head on TV only talks about the virus. Again, I understand the gravity of the situation, the pain it is inflicting on families, the stress it is putting on our economic and medical systems. I understand, but there are other things happening in the world as well; things that will have effects long after we recover from this virus. One of these things, what I am writing about today, concerns auto emission standard rollbacks instituted by the Trump administration.
The Obama administration had previously worked with California “to nearly double the fleet wide average fuel economy for passenger cars and SUVs to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.” In doing so, consumers would buy more fuel-efficient cars leading to a reduction in greenhouse gasses produced by automobile traffic. Although consumers would have to pay more upfront to buy the new cars, they would save money in the long run due to saving money in gas. Couple this with the added benefit of making the air cleaner — much needed in a time where an “invisible enemy” makes our lungs its warfield — and you have a real win-win scenario.
Let’s say that the government does rescind these rules. Why should states have to comply with such an order? If the rule is federal, why couldn’t a state decide that they like unpolluted air and make up their own? Case-in-point, California. When the emission rules were put in place, the Obama Administration granted California a waiver saying they could create stricter rules if they wanted to. They did. Why was their waiver revoked by the Trump administration? Especially a waiver that benefits the health and general welfare of its citizens? For the party that whines and cries about “big government bad” and “state’s rights,” there is scant Republican outcry here.
I should note that not even car companies want as extreme a rescission as the Trump administration is carrying out. Since “California and 18 other states that reflect more than 50% or 60% of the car sales in the country will challenge that decision in courts,” automakers would rather a more moderate rollback that would give them more certainty as to how to develop their vehicles. These lawsuits will be expensive both in monetary and public relation value.
So why, then, does the administration want to rescind these rules? Is it because consumers want these changes? I should think not as car buyers overwhelmingly want newer cars that are more fuel-efficient; they want innovation and progress on that front more so than anything else. The electric car is also starting to make its way into the automobile mainstream — the so-called ideal “zero emission” automobile. But, sadly, zero emission technologies are not perfect; the technology is still being developed and is, as I said before, more expensive than older/used cars that do not meet the new emission standards. Basically, the emission standard enacted by the Obama administration encouraged innovation and produced products that met consumer desires.
It is instead my assumption that effective lobbying from automakers to this administration has brought us to this point, a point where the automakers argue that sacrificing the air breathed by and the technological progress enjoyed by average Americans to save pennies on the dollar in the short-term is worth it. Now they have gotten what they wished for and worse so. The monkey’s paw that is the EPA under the Trump administration may hurt automakers more than any emission rule could have.