Fuel Standards Are a Success Worth Preserving

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Omega CEO Skip Backus says the EPA's plan to roll back standards for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy for light trucks and cars is misguided and dangerous.

By Robert "Skip" Backus

As we observe Earth Day, it is inconceivable that past environmental successes are being dismantled by the very agencies charged with protecting them.

In the latest affront to its own mission statement, the Environmental Protection Agency has started the process of rolling back efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. 

Transportation is the largest source of air pollution in the United States and contributes a large percentage of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Transportation activities accounted for more than a third of U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion in 2016, according to the latest EPA inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. Passenger cars accounted for 42.2 percent and minivans 17 percent of the transportation total. 

Currently, the fuel efficiency standard is 35.5 miles per gallon and is set to rise to 54.5 mpg by 2025.   

I will admit it is hard to keep track of all the environmental rollbacks currently underway by this administration. And some are more technical and difficult to speak to. 

But this one is easy to address.

We are all familiar with the stickers on cars that report fuel economy. We have all seen the photos of cities choked with smog. And we all have felt the impact gas guzzlers can have on the economy and our health.

So let’s set aside, for the moment, the administration’s rollback of clean air and water regulations and our exit from the Paris Climate Agreement. Think about all the cars we have in our country—113 million of them.

Foreign Oil Is No Longer Our Main Concern

Congress established the first fuel economy standards in 1975 to help break our dependence on foreign oil.

While this dependence still holds a position in the conversation, the force of the argument behind the fuel efficiency standard has shifted to climate change and the emissions from our vehicles.

When we talk about increasing the standard, we are talking about decreasing particulate matter, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, greenhouse gases (CO2), and a collection of cancer-causing chemicals from being emitted into our environment.

The auto industry and the current administration claim that in order to meet the new standards, car prices would have to go up significantly. This is unclear; there are reports supporting both positions.

Then there is the argument that the technology is not available to achieve the goal, which I find hard to believe given that we can put a billion pieces of information on a pinhead.

The Real Cost: Our Health

I look at the issue simply: As human beings, we need clean air and water to live a healthy and happy life. When we are looking at decisions concerning clean air, shouldn’t we also consider, as part of the equation, the cost of dirty air? Shouldn’t we add in the cost of respiratory illness and cancer as well as the cost of climate change?

With the looming 2-degree Celsius rise and with 1.3 billion automobiles globally, the need for measures that address the cumulative impact of our cars is clear.

Holding to the goal of 54 mpg in 2025 will lead to less CO2 in the atmosphere, less oil pumped out of the ground, better quality air to breathe, and more jobs creating innovative solutions to critical issues.

The administration claims rolling back the fuel economy guidelines is “putting America first.”

Really, it is about abdicating leadership. It's about missing an opportunity to lead the world forward. And it's about failing to demonstrate the resolve and strength it takes to place global well-being over short-term profits.