Reid Diamond: Trump's challenge to the environment, economy and states' rights

Tuesday, January 14, 2020 - 12:35pm

Under the Trump administration’s destruction of environmental regulations, we have seen the deregulation of water, air pollution and emission standards. We have seen deregulation of natural resource extraction all under the guise of proposed economic benefit. In this vein, the Trump administration recently proposed a cut to Obama-era fuel efficiency standards combined with a challenge of states’ rights to combat these deregulations. This ill-advised decision would create a division in the American auto industry, driving up car prices, hurting the average consumer and continuing to disregard the environment. This policy should not be enacted. 

 

In 2012, former President Barack Obama met with leaders of the American auto industry and worked with them to set ambitious fuel efficiency standards of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. However, President Donald Trump is now proposing a slash of these standards, setting them at 37 miles per gallon. The EPA proposal also revoked a legal waiver granted to California under the 1970 Clean Air Act, which is now followed by 13 other states, permitting individual states to set their own pollution standards that are more strict than those of the federal government. Important figures in the EPA and the Department of Transportation claim increased fuel efficiency standards conflict with driver safety due to the promotion of lighter cars.

 

However, the Trump administration is completely missing the point. Yes, cars are getting lighter, but material science and engineering have also improved and vehicles have been able to maintain safety standards. John DeCicco, PhD., Associate Director and Research Professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, explains “the administration’s efforts to roll back these standards is a denial of basic science and a denial of American automakers’ engineering capabilities and ingenuity.” Meanwhile, a consumer report on the topic clearly refutes the claim of consumer benefit, affirming consumers would have to spend an estimated $55 billion more total on gas in 2040.

 

Clearly, any proposed benefits of the plan have been refuted by basic data and science. The administration simply picked facts out of context to bolster their claims. But maybe the American auto industry will benefit? Wrong. 

 

Despite these cuts to fuel efficiency standards, states like California are looking to maintain their own fuel standards and ignore the federal cuts. If this occurred, the American automobile market would be effectively split into two: one market for less efficient cars and one for more efficient cars. Automakers have called this the worst-case scenario as their production would be less cost-effective. To avoid two separate markets, either the federal government needs to adhere to the standards set in 2012, or California needs to submit to the federal government.

 

American markets are shifting toward sustainability because they’re following demand. Especially in the auto industry, the issues of sustainability and economic benefit are no longer conflicting. It’s simple. Yet Trump is still pursuing the deregulation, including the revocation of states' rights to fit his ill-advised agenda.

 

The Republican party is well known for their staunch advocacy of states’ rights. Recent nationwide legislative and judicial proposals on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and gun control have been rejected by the Republican party because of their belief in states' rights. This isn’t to say that the Republican party doesn’t believe in the right to abortion, stricter gun laws or same-sex marriage. Rather, the Republican stance has been to let states decide what laws they want to enact or omit as a representation of what the electorate believes or wants. But suddenly, when it comes to the agenda of the Trump administration, states’ rights are out the window. The hypocrisy reeks. At the very least, each state should be able to set their own standards at more ambitious levels in spite of our utterly inept federal government’s response to the climate crisis. But even this right is not afforded.

 

If the Trump administration were to go ahead with this proposal, states’ rights would be infringed upon, consumers would be forced to spend more, the American auto industry would suffer at the hands of a split market and the environment would suffer. Less fuel efficiency means more gas consumption, leaving oil companies as the only significant beneficiary. Trump's inauguration festivities received millions from the fossil fuel industry, no doubt in exchange for favors from the president such as this repeal of fuel efficiency standards.

 

While politicians are lounging comfortably in the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industry, consumers, American automakers and the environment are all suffering. This proposal is one of many deregulations in the Trump administration that set a dangerous precedent for the future of American politics and our environment. Plain and simple, this proposal says that the economic success of big companies is more important than states’ rights and more important than the economic well-being of the majority of the people in this country.

 

Reid Diamond can be reached at reiddiam@umich.edu.