Losing the Race for Clean Transportation?

Dory Larsen | August 10, 2018 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles

If the U.S. is in a drag race toward the future, our competition is flooring it while we’re pumping the brakes. Which to anyone watching is obviously not a winning strategy. Most of the world is moving at warp speed towards a cleaner transportation system while the U.S. currently seems to be stuck in a losing addiction to fossil fuels. Here’s what the Trump Administration’s rollback of federal emissions standards will mean to all of us.

Higher Prices
The Union of Concerned Scientists has calculated how much the fuel economy standards set in 2012 have saved American consumers. They even have a fun ticker to track it. The number is mind-blowing. At over $64 billion dollars saved it’s painful to understand the financial impact freezing emissions standards will have on our wallets. Or to look at it another way, how much more revenue the oil industry will be making off the deal.

California has set their own emission standards since the 1970’s because of a waiver they were granted to make their emissions more stringent. The new plan is aimed at making one set of standards and is calling for an end to the waiver. California and seventeen other states have already filed a lawsuit defending their right to higher air quality requirements. The manufacturers themselves understand the nearsightedness of having two very different standards. Although it was the automakers who asked President Trump to reexamine fuel standards, they weren’t expecting the EPA to ax California’s waiver to the Clean Air Act which has thrown quite a large wrench in the plan. Ironically, now some of the manufacturers are now in support of keeping the emission standards through 2025. As, for the most part, they have been able to meet the standards, and protracted lawsuits are never good for business.  

More Pollution and Premature Death
Emissions from transportation are on the rise and have surpassed emissions from energy utilities because the energy sector is getting cleaner while the transportation sector is not keeping pace at cleaning up. Part of the success with emissions regulation is the technology advances that have come as a result of it. There have been significant improvements with electrified vehicles. Newer models get on average over 100 MPG and achieve reductions of more half the emissions from a traditional car. Conversely, data shows that the rollbacks will result in an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions by 2040. That is equivalent to keeping 43 coal-fired power plants online. Rolling back these standards is the opposite direction we need to go in order to continue to see success in cutting deadly air pollution, and emissions come at a high price to human health. Air pollution has been overwhelmingly documented to increases respiratory ailments like asthma and bronchitis and increases the risk of life-threatening conditions like cancer. The World Health Organization estimated ambient air pollution causes 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide per year in 2016.

Ironic History
Emission standards we put in place to safeguard the automotive industry. A trip down memory lane reminds us why the Obama Administration imposed stronger emissions rules over a decade ago. The 2008 market crash led several automakers to come to Congress seeking bailout money, which they received to the tune of $9.3 billion net cost to taxpayers. One of the reasons compounding their problems was that they had invested heavily on gas-guzzling models and when gas prices suddenly shot up Americans began buying fuel-efficient alternatives. And now that they’re back in the black they want to renegotiate. Additionally, while America was reeling in a deep recession the Chinese car market surpassed us. Fortunately, the Chinese market values low-emission vehicles and has acquired an appetite for clean electric vehicles. Perhaps the silver lining to this story is that the global market also reflects this change towards electrification and maybe, just maybe America will get buoyed along by it.

Take Action
If you are interested in submitting your comments to the EPA regarding rolling back emission standards you can do that at their website by clicking here. The deadline to submit comments is October 2, 2018.  

Sign up to join Electrify The South’s network to stay up-to-date on Electric Vehicle policy and outreach activities! Go to Electrify The South’s website to learn more about how electric vehicles can help transition us away from dirty gas-fueled cars.

Dory Larsen
Dory joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in 2017 and was named Senior Electric Transportation Program Manager in 2023. She is working to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles…
My Profile