Trump’s tailpipe rollback would boost emissions — study

By Maxine Joselow | 02/18/2020 06:36 AM EST

President Trump’s rollback of vehicle fuel economy standards would pump an additional 654 million metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere compared with tailpipe standards set by President Obama, according to new research.

The analysis by the Rhodium Group, an economic consulting firm, looked at the rollback’s cumulative impact on greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption.

Trump’s rollback, formally known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles (SAFE) Rule, has two main components.


The first part, released in September, blocked California and other states from setting tougher greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars than those issued by the federal government.

The second part, which could be released in the coming weeks, is expected to require a 1.5% annual increase in the fuel economy of cars and light trucks from 2021 to 2026. That’s much less stringent than the rules established under Obama, which required a 5% annual increase.

The analysis found that the 1.5% proposal would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 143 million metric tons cumulatively through 2035, whereas the Obama-era standards were designed to result in a cumulative emissions reduction of 797 million metric tons.

The difference — 654 million metric tons — is significant. Put in context, it’s larger than the annual economywide emissions of more than 77% of countries on Earth.

"This makes it one of the biggest environmental rollbacks of the Trump era," Hannah Pitt, an analyst at the Rhodium Group and co-author of the analysis, said in an email to E&E News.

"The fuel economy regulations under threat are the primary federal policy currently on the books to address transportation emissions, the country’s largest source of greenhouse gases," Pitt added.

The analysis also found that the rollback would boost U.S. oil demand by 2.2 billion barrels from 2021 to 2035 relative to the Obama-era standards. That would cause drivers to pay an additional $231 billion at the gas pump over the same time period.

The analysis comes as the Trump administration struggles to finalize the second part of the rollback, which is a joint rulemaking between EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The two agencies sent the second part of the rollback to the White House Office of Management and Budget for a standard review on Jan. 15 (Greenwire, Jan. 15).

But The New York Times reported that the proposal contains several glaring errors and lacks a regulatory impact analysis, a key legal requirement.

The cost-benefit analysis also shows that consumers would lose more money than they would gain, the Times reported, citing six people familiar with the documents.

These shortcomings ultimately could jeopardize the Trump administration’s ability to finalize the second part of the rollback before the November presidential elections, which could render the issue moot if a Democrat denies Trump a second term and a chance to implement it.

Asked for comment, an EPA spokesperson said in an email to E&E News: "The Administration’s proposal is still undergoing interagency review and we are focused on working with NHTSA and OMB to ensure the finalization of the SAFE Rule. The SAFE Rule when finalized will reduce the cost of new vehicles and save lives."

An NHTSA spokesperson said in an email: "The SAFE rule incorporates hundreds of thousands of public comments and extensive scientific and economic analyses from NHTSA and EPA experts. The rule will benefit all Americans by improving the U.S. fleet’s fuel economy, reducing air pollution, and making new vehicles more affordable. And because new vehicles are safer than ever, the standards set by the SAFE Vehicles Final Rule will ultimately save lives and reduce the number of Americans seriously injured in car crashes. When finalized, this rule will be a win for all Americans."