The Trump administration took one of its most significant anti-environment steps yet back in March, when the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation officially replaced Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. The move dismantled one of President Barack Obama’s strongest actions against climate change and replaced it with a new plan that’s projected to do far more environmental, economic, and physical harm—and now, nearly half the states in the country are now pushing back. Attorneys general from 23 states plus the District of Columbia filed suit against the Trump administration over the rollback Wednesday, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The new Trump-imposed rule “is a job-killer and public health hazard,” Becerra said in a statement. “It will increase costs to consumers and allow the emission of dangerous pollutants that directly threaten the health of our families.”
The attorneys general, who were also joined in the suit by the cities of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Denver, believe that the new rule imposed by the Trump administration violates congressional mandates and “improperly and unlawfully relied on an analysis riddled with errors, omissions, and unfounded assumptions” in an attempt to justify dismantling the Clean Car Standards set by the Obama administration, according to Becerra’s statement. While those standards would have forced automakers to improve fuel efficiency by 5% each year to reach a goal of 54 miles per gallon by 2025, the Trump rule lowers that standard to only 1.5%, with a goal of 40 miles per gallon by 2026. (Automakers themselves are divided on the lowered emissions standards, with some supporting the Trump-set standards while others remain committed to the Obama-era numbers.) A broad coalition of environmental groups also filed suit against the EPA and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration over the rule Wednesday, with the Sierra Club describing the rollback as one of the Trump administration’s “most reckless and destructive actions yet” and “one of the sloppiest regulatory actions to date.” “This flawed rule—which will increase pollution, endanger public health, cut auto jobs, and further burden American families with higher fueling costs—will not hold up in court, just like the vast majority of the Trump Administration’s unjustified actions,” Joanne Spalding, the Sierra Club’s Chief Climate Counsel, said in a statement.
While the EPA claims that the new Trump-era rule “strikes the right regulatory balance, protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry, while supporting our economy and the safety of American families,” the actual projected effects of the rollback are far less rosy. The Trump administration itself estimated that the move would result in an additional 867 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions as compared with keeping the more stringent standards in place, and an analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund estimated there could be 1.5 billion metric tons of climate change pollution as a result of the rollback by 2040. Though the Trump administration has attempted to justify the rollback as being good for consumers because vehicle prices would be cheaper, Consumer Reports found that it will actually cost consumers an additional $3300 on average per vehicle, and result in at least $460 billion in costs for consumers overall. (The Obama-era regulation, on the other hand, saved consumers $86 billion in fuel costs before it was rolled back, according to the EPA.) More importantly, the fuel rollback could cost some Americans their lives. The EDF analysis projects there will be 18,500 premature deaths by the middle of the century because of the rollback, along with a sharp increase in respiratory ailments, and the health issues will result in an additional $190 million in health care costs. The Trump emissions rule is “a slap in the face to public health,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told the New York Times.
Even the EPA has privately acknowledged that the move will result in an additional 17 highway deaths per year, the Associate Press reported in August 2018, despite the agency publicly claiming the rollback would save 1,000 lives per year. That disconnect seems to be emblematic of the reportedly sloppy and error-ridden process of implementing the new rule that the A.G.s and environmental groups referenced when filing their lawsuits, as reports suggest a chaotic atmosphere in which career officials and scientific evidence were overruled by political interests. The AP report found that career officials had told the White House’s Office of Management and Budget that the administration’s rationale for the updated efficiency rule was based on miscalculations—but as one former staffer told the publication, “EPA career staff were totally ignored.” A New York Times report in August 2019, similarly, found that public comments on the rollback and analyses of its purported benefits were “at odds with what the White House wanted to do,” and staffers at the EPA and Department of Transportation were “struggling to assemble a coherent technical and scientific analysis” to justify the change. Moreover, the team in charge of implementing the new emissions rule was also itself reportedly in turmoil: Several officials working on the rollback all left the office or administration, leaving a 29-year-old White House aide with limited climate change experience in charge of overseeing the complex project.