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Experts Say Lower Fuel-Efficiency Standards Will Cost AZ More

Interstate 10 near downtown Phoenix, also known as the Papago Freeway, is the heaviest-traveled section of road in the state. (Flickr)
Interstate 10 near downtown Phoenix, also known as the Papago Freeway, is the heaviest-traveled section of road in the state. (Flickr)
April 1, 2020

PHOENIX -- After a couple years of wrangling, the Trump administration's policy easing fuel-efficiency standards for new cars has gone into effect. The plan rolls back an Obama-era rule to cut emissions 5% a year by 2026, trimming that annual reduction to just 1.5%.

Opponents have said the rollback is a bad idea, but especially so with the threat of a recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, predicted that the changes will make Arizona's already poor air quality worse.

"It will hurt our air, especially in places like Phoenix and Tucson, where we have poor air quality when it comes to ozone pollution," she said, "and a lot of the emissions that contribute to that pollution come from vehicles."

Arizona failed to meet federal Clean Air Act standards in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that asthma, COPD and other respiratory conditions are on the rise across the state.

Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that while Trump administration officials have tried to spin the change as a way to make cars less expensive, it still will hit drivers in their wallets and pocketbooks.

"They still can't fudge the numbers enough to make it look like a good idea," he said. "It's likely to leave us worse off, and that pain is going to be felt hardest by low-income families who spend a bigger portion of their money on transportation and are already dealing with the impacts of climate change."

David Friedman, vice president for advocacy at Consumer Reports, said the new regulations are not likely to stand up to a legal challenge.

"Many groups are already moving forward to challenge this in the court," he said, "and because it is such a weak rule that is not based on facts, not based on the data, not based on the science, we're expecting that should have a very positive outcome for consumers."

California, along with several other states, is fighting the new rule and has vowed to institute the original standards despite what the federal regulations dictate.

The rule change is online at nhtsa.gov.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ