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Clean-Air Advocates Urge Feds to Keep Fuel-Efficiency Standards

Statistics show tailpipe pollution causes 53,000 early deaths a year in the United States. (Lutgradio/Morguefile)
Statistics show tailpipe pollution causes 53,000 early deaths a year in the United States. (Lutgradio/Morguefile)
September 7, 2017

PHOENIX — Clean air advocates are speaking out in the wake of a move by the Trump administration to roll back standards on clean cars and fuel efficiency.

The Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and got an earful from groups concerned about air pollution, public health, and increased fuel costs. The current standards took effect 5 years ago and just underwent a review in 2016.

Joanne Strother, regional director of public policy with the Southwest Region of the American Lung Association, said the standards help cut down on the air pollution that plagues urban areas in the state.

"The Phoenix metro area ranks fifth in the nation for the worst air, and Maricopa County gets an 'F' in both ozone and particulate matter,” Strother said. "And from 2013 to 2015 we had an average of 35 days of unhealthy air."

By 2025, the standards aim to reduce tailpipe pollution by 6 billion metric tons and almost double fuel efficiency, saving consumers about $1,500 each. Automakers complain that the modifications required are expensive and drive up sticker prices.

Dave Cooke, senior vehicle analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that the cost of implementing the standards has been overestimated, pointing out that the U.S. auto industry has surged in recent years nonetheless.

"We had back-to-back years of record sales,” Cooke said. "We're not going to quite hit that, but we're on pace to top 17 million vehicles again for the third year in a row. That's never happened before, so obviously industry is doing pretty well right now."

Carol Lee Rawn, director of the Transportation Program with the nonprofit group Ceres, attended the hearing. She said the standards actually make American cars more competitive.

"It's necessary to have strong standards in place in order to protect the leadership position of the United States,” Rawn said. "It's not going to be able to compete in this new world if it's falling behind on fuel efficiency and new technologies."

President Trump has said the changes would support jobs in the auto industry. Advocates point out that 288,000 Americans are currently employed building technologies that reduce pollution from cars and trucks, and estimate as many as 50,000 could lose those jobs by 2030 if standards are rolled back.

The standards are open for public comment until October 5. 300,000 people have already voiced their support for the current version.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - AZ