Will New EPA Fuel-Economy Standard Stall NJ’s Drive for Cleaner Air?

Tom Johnson | April 1, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Trump administration sees new rule as ‘right regulatory balance,’ while many enviros say it will set back efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions
Credit: Matt Boitor via Unsplash
The rollback occurs at a time when the state’s policies are primarily geared to electrifying the transportation system.

The Trump administration yesterday rolled back what clean-energy advocates viewed as one of the most effective regulations to reduce pollution from cars and to address climate change, an action already being contested in courts by a couple dozen states and environmentalists.

The decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was described by the agencies as making newer and safer vehicles more accessible to Americans.

“Our final rule puts in place a sensible one national program that strikes the right regulatory balance that protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry,’’ EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. “This rule supports our economy, and the safety of American families.’’

Imperiling NJ’s push for cleaner air?

For New Jersey, the repeal of the Obama administration rule and replacement with a new standard for fuel economy could hinder its efforts to improve air quality as well as setting back efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. The transportation sector accounts for roughly 46% of pollution causing global warming emissions in New Jersey.

The new rule will result in modest reductions in carbon pollution from vehicles by 1 .5% each year through the model year 2026, as compared with the standards issued by the Obama administration, which would have required cuts in greenhouse emissions of about 5% per year.

That’s far from what is needed, according to states, some automakers and environmentalists.

“Doesn’t this administration have more important things to do right now?’’ said Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former administrator of the EPA. “Gutting the clean-car standards makes no sense. It will harm the air we breathe, stall progress in fighting the climate crisis and increase the cost of driving.’’

But Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, had a different take. “This rule corrects the Obama administration’s expensive, coercive mandates, leaving businesses and consumers in control of what cars to buy and sell,’’ he said.

Carbon pollution will climb

Conservationists disagreed. According to the Department of Transportation and the EPA’s own calculations, automobile carbon pollution will increase by at least 867 million tons, compared with the total projected for the standards being rolled back, according to the NRDC.

The rollback occurs at a time when policymakers are pushing efforts to convince motorists to switch to cleaner-running vehicles, particularly plug-in electric vehicles. The state’s policies are primarily geared to electrifying the transportation system.

“Besides adding more to air pollution, another big impact of rolling back vehicle-efficiency standards will cost at more at the pump,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of New Jersey Sierra Club. “If cars are less efficient, it will force us to buy more gasoline while raising the price.’’

“This rollback represents a self-inflicted wound to our economy in the heart of an economic crisis,’’ said Sandra Purohit, director of federal advocacy for the national nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs).

The new rule is already being challenged in court by New Jersey and a couple dozen other states, as well as many environmental groups.