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Trump Exploits COVID-19 Crisis to Roll Back Auto Pollution Rules

WASHINGTON - Today the Trump administration unveiled the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, the final step in its multi-year effort to gut Obama-era fuel efficiency standards designed to combat climate change. The move marks the latest in nearly 100 attempts to weaken or roll back climate and environmental health protections since Trump took office, the majority of which have faced significant legal and regulatory hurdles. 

The joint new rule would require automakers’ fleets to average roughly 40 miles per gallon by 2025, down from 54 miles per gallon under the Obama rule. A 2018 analysis of the proposed rule found that the resulting increase in air pollution from tailpipe emissions could lead to as many as 32,000 premature deaths and 125,000 hospital visits by 2050 [1]. 

 

In response, Greenpeace USA Senior Climate Campaigner Caroline Henderson said:

 

“Trump’s disregard for public health isn’t limited to his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. By lowering fuel efficiency standards, his administration is condemning thousands more people to die from air pollution. The president’s lack of humanity has permeated his administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, the climate crisis, and the crisis of toxic pollution. Black, Brown, and working-class communities around the country already suffer from increased levels of air pollution [2]. Rolling back fuel efficiency standards will increase disease-causing particulate matter and worsen the global climate emergency.

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“While the rest of us are trying to survive a pandemic, oil executives are running down their wishlist of corporate handouts. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has so far been happy to oblige. For years, people have been demanding that fossil fuel corporations and climate-denying politicians face a reckoning for the damage they’ve done to people and the planet. Right now we need to do everything we can to hold polluters accountable and protect communities already suffering from a pollution-related public health crisis.”

 

The oil industry repeatedly lobbied the Trump administration to weaken fuel efficiency standards. Oil refiners like Marathon Petroleum and Koch Industries — in tandem with the lobbying groups like the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — were particularly instrumental in convincing the Trump EPA to target the Obama-era rule [3]. AFPM, which represents ExxonMobil, Chevron, Phillips 66, and other oil giants, even created a front group to urge pressure on regulators [4].

 

Just last week, the EPA announced it would indefinitely suspend enforcement of environmental health standards in direct response to a request from the American Petroleum Institute [5]. Trump's EPA is currently racing to complete a half dozen other significant environmental and public health rollbacks over the coming months but has not extended deadlines on public comment. In some cases, the administration has even refused requests to hold virtual public meetings.

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