opinion   |   column

EPA proposal to freeze fuel economy standards is extremely dangerous



As the U.S. corporate media consistently fixes its attention on President Donald Trump’s tweets, his scandals and the drama of the Mueller probe, the Trump administration is steadily eroding the hope for the survival of human civilization as we know it.

Saying that sounds like exaggerated fear-mongering, but that is the foreseeable result of the most powerful country in the world implementing radically destructive policies on the most crucial issue of our time: climate change.

And yes, we are talking about the survival of human civilization as we know it. Since 1945, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has kept a “doomsday clock” to warn the world of how likely global catastrophe is, due to nuclear weapons and, more recently, climate change. This year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the clock to two minutes to midnight.

That’s the closest the clock has ever been to midnight. The only other time it was two minutes to midnight was 1953, when Cold War nuclear tensions were extremely high.

Despite the warnings of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and virtually the entire global scientific community, since his first day in office Trump and his appointees have introduced policies to accelerate climate change.

The latest one is a new proposal by the so-called Environmental Protection Agency. This would be more appropriately named the “Environmental Degradation Agency” while under the leadership of former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler or his scandal-ridden predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

The proposal is to freeze fuel economy standards for automobiles at the levels the Obama administration planned for 2021, rather than allow the standards to rise until 2025 as planned.

That alone would be a terrible policy. But here’s the icing on the cake: the EPA is even attempting to revoke California’s waiver to set its own higher fuel economy standards.

As it is, California has its own standards, and 13 other states plus the District of Columbia follow those standards. This rule change would force all states and D.C. to accept the weak nationwide 2021 standards.

The adoption of higher standards by some states is very effective for climate change mitigation, because many auto makers will choose to sell models nationwide that meet California’s standards, rather than incur the added costs of manufacturing two different models of each car for the two different standards.

Relaxing climate regulations is the exact opposite of the right thing to do at this moment. Obviously, this proposal would allow far higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions than the standards previously scheduled by the EPA.

The issue of air pollution and its effects on human health is also crucial. As it is, almost half of the U.S. population lives in areas failing to meet federal air quality standards. The Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated polluted air causes 30,000 premature deaths in the U.S. every year. As the number of cars on the road grows, the number of resulting deaths will rise alongside it.

The EPA claims its new proposal will reduce costs for new car buyers. Bizarrely, the EPA then argues this will improve road safety by making it easier to buy new cars, which tend to be safer than old ones.

Of course it is vital to take into account the economic hardships of working-class car buyers, some of whom simply cannot meet their transportation needs without a personal automobile. However, while higher fuel economy standards raise the upfront prices of buying new cars, consumers will save massive amounts of money on fuel.

Even if the standards do decrease new car purchases, the EPA’s safety argument is obviously bogus once the huge health risks of air pollution are taken into account.

This proposed rule change, as well as Trump’s other climate change acceleration policies, must be fought in the courts, in legislatures and at the grassroots level.

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