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Trump Takes Heat for Dialing Back Fuel-Economy Standards

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Vehicle emissions exacerbate breathing problems, including asthma. (Adobe Stock)
Vehicle emissions exacerbate breathing problems, including asthma. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI - Producer, Contact
April 1, 2020

LANSING, Mich. -- The Trump administration is taking heat for dialing back vehicle-emission standards when a public health crisis already is threatening lives and the economy.

The final "Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient" (SAFE) Vehicles Rule requires automakers to raise the fuel economy of passenger cars by 1.5% annually, overriding 2012 standards that required 5% increases each year.

Detroit-area mom Elizabeth Hauptman, Michigan field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, contended that weaker standards will worsen air quality for the 332,000 Michigan kids with asthma, including her son.

"As a mom right now, it just seems reckless and dangerous," she said. "If he gets this, we're going to a hospital; there's no 'passing go.' I don't understand why they would want to put children in danger. It just makes me sick to my stomach."

Federal officials have claimed that the SAFE Vehicle Rule strikes the right regulatory balance for the environment, the auto sector, the economy and safety.

The Trump administration initially wanted to freeze standards at 2020 levels. Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said this final rule only appears better on paper.

"The administration claims that they've improved the rule compared to their initial proposal," he said. "We have no reason to trust that. The 1.5% yearly improvement they've suggested is already less than what the industry has averaged over the past 15 years, let alone the 5%-per-year improvement required by the current rule."

David Friedman, vice president for advocacy at Consumer Reports, adds that weakening gas-mileage requirements will cost drivers more money for years to come.

"Americans are suffering right now. They're suffering physically, emotionally and financially, and it is only getting worse," he said. "And here's the bottom line: This rollback will cost Americans $300 billion. It will slow auto sales for years to come and, at best, it will do nothing to save lives."

Opponents are expected to challenge the rule in court, much like the first part of the rule that was announced in the fall. It blocked California and 14 other states from setting tougher tailpipe-pollution rules than federal standards.

The rule change is online at nhtsa.gov.

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