Manufacturers Cheer Insane EPA Decision To Revoke California Waiver. Will Trump Kill The Electric Car — Again?

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Well, the Trumpinistas have done it. Not only will the EPA — now headed by Andrew Wheeler, former chief lobbyist for Murray Coal Company — roll back the fuel economy standards put in place with the consent of the auto manufacturers during the Obama administration, it will also revoke the waiver California has enjoyed since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970.

EPA logoThat waiver allows California to set its own emissions rules so long as they equal or exceed the federal standards. The justification for the EPA’s latest shenanigans is a classic example of the bureaucratic double speak that was such a prominent feature of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. Here is the press release the EPA issued to justify its insanity.

WASHINGTON  — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a notice of proposed rulemaking, the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks (SAFE Vehicles Rule), to correct the national automobile fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards to give the American people greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles that are cleaner for the environment.

The SAFE Vehicles Rule is the next generation of the Congressionally mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards. This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is the first formal step in setting the 2021-2026 Model Year (MY) standards that must be achieved by each automaker for its car and light-duty truck fleet.

In today’s proposal, EPA and NHTSA are seeking public comment on a wide range of regulatory options, including a preferred alternative that locks in MY 2020 standards through 2026, providing a much-needed time-out from further, costly increases. The agencies’ preferred alternative reflects a balance of safety, economics, technology, fuel conservation, and pollution reduction. It is anticipated to prevent thousands of on-road fatalities and injuries as compared to the standards set forth in the 2012 final rule. The joint proposal initiates a process to establish a new 50-state fuel economy and tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions standard for passenger cars and light trucks covering MY 2021 through 2026.

“We are delivering on President Trump’s promise to the American public that his administration would address and fix the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.“Our proposal aims to strike the right regulatory balance based on the most recent information and create a 50-state solution that will enable more Americans to afford newer, safer vehicles that pollute less. More realistic standards can save lives while continuing to improve the environment. We value the public’s input as we engage in this process in an open, transparent manner.”

“There are compelling reasons for a new rulemaking on fuel economy standards for 2021-2026,” said Secretary Elaine L. Chao.“More realistic standards will promote a healthy economy by bringing newer, safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles to U.S. roads and we look forward to receiving input from the public.”

The current standards have been a factor in the rising cost of new automobiles to an average of $35,000 or more—out of reach for many American families. Indeed, compared to the preferred alternative in the proposal, keeping in place the standards finalized in 2012 would add $2,340 to the cost of owning a new car, and impose more than $500 billion in societal costs on the U.S. economy over the next 50 years.

Additionally, a 2018 government study by NHTSA shows new model year vehicles are safer, resulting in fewer deaths and injuries when involved in accidents, as compared to older models. Therefore, the Administration is focused on correcting the current standards that restrict the American people from being able to afford newer vehicles with more advanced safety features, better fuel economy, and associated environmental benefits.

On April 2, 2018, EPA issued the Mid-Term Evaluation Final Determination which found that the MY 2022-2025 GHG standards are not appropriate and should be revised. For more than a year, the agencies worked together to extensively analyze current automotive and fuel technologies, reviewed economic conditions and projections, and consulted with other federal agency partners to ensure the most reliable and accurate analysis possible.

EPA and NHTSA are seeking public feedback to ensure that all potential impacts concerning today’s proposal are fully considered and hope to issue a final rule this winter. The public will have 60 days to provide feedback once published at the Federal Register. Details can be found at NHTSA’s website here and EPA’s website here.

Psychobabble Masquerading As Facts

If you are scratching your head trying to understand the administration’s logic, try this guide. New cars are safer than older cars. But people can’t afford new cars because fuel economy rules make them cost too much. So if new cars don’t have to meet higher fuel economy rules, they will be cheaper, which means more people will be able to afford them, which means highway deaths will go down because more people will be riding in new cars that are safer than their old cars. Got that? The explanation gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “tortured logic.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind while you try to digest this. For years, the automobile manufacturers, hiding behind the guise of their trade organization known as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, have been arguing that government regulations are responsible for 100% of the increasing cost of the automobiles they make. There is never any mention of how adding every power and convenience option under the sun has contributed to those increases. It is all the government’s fault that new cars are so expensive.

Does it strike you as odd that the government now wants people to buy safer cars when the only reason they are safer is because of government regulations? Absent the heavy hand of government, the car companies could still be building body on frame behemoths with all the crashworthiness, side impact protection, and rollover strength of a 1952 Buick. Air bags, seat belts, antilock brakes — none of those fancy schmantzy safety devices would be necessary were it not for government mandates.

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Position

For its part, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers issued a tepid, namby-pamby, weasel-worded statement in response to the EPA announcement. “Automakers support continued improvements in fuel economy and flexibilities that incentivize advanced technologies while balancing priorities like affordability, safety, jobs, and the environment. With today’s release of the Administration’s proposals, it’s time for substantive negotiations to begin. We urge California and the federal government to find a common sense solution that sets continued increases in vehicle efficiency standards while also meeting the needs of America’s drivers.”

Are these the same manufacturers who agreed to the fuel economy standards first proposed by the Obama administration in 2011? Yes, in fact, they are the very same corporations who went schlepping up to Capitol Hill to beg for money from Uncle Sugar to save their sorry asses after the economy imploded thanks to the anti-regulation policies of George W. Bush. Can you say “two faced lying bastards?”

Let’s You And Him Fight

Years ago, a popular book was called “Games People Play.” One of the dysfunctional strategies it depicted was called, “Let’s you and him fight,” in which one party maneuvers others into fighting each other. That’s exactly what’s going on here. The manufacturers have long chafed under the rules imposed by the California Air Resources Board. Nothing would bring more joy to their greedy little hearts than to see those rules go away. But they don’t dare say so out loud, so they have engineered a scenario in which Washington and Sacramento will fight each other while the car companies pretend to be disinterested observers patiently waiting on the sidelines for the results of the contest. Can you say “two faced lying bastards?” Oh, wait. We already did that.

Some People Are Standing Up

While the car companies are refusing to take a stand, many others are speaking out. Pasqule Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, made this statement to CleanTechnica.

“The Trump Administration today announced plans to revoke California’s authority to regulate automobile emissions. This decision is a significant mistake which will not only turn back the clock on California’s landmark efforts to reduce harmful tailpipe emissions, but could negatively impact the progress made to combat climate change statewide and around the country.

“California’s Clean Air Act Waiver has served as the cornerstone of the state’s efforts to protect the health of its residents since 1963 and a benchmark for the nation and the world — under Republican and Democratic Governors alike — including Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

“California is the global leader in the mobility revolution, due in no small part to the State’s commitment to emissions reductions. As home to the world’s leading electric vehicle and EV charging infrastructure companies, the State continues to create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars of economic activity. It simply makes no sense to revoke this waiver at a time when California leads the nation’s efforts to compete in the global marketplace on transportation electrification.

“This issue now heads to the Courts, where a battle will inject uncertainty into the rapidly innovating auto sector. ChargePoint believes that the waiver should be preserved so that California can continue to be a benchmark for states nationally and countries around the world in reducing and ultimately eliminating harmful tailpipe emissions.”

We also heard from Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“This proposal is completely unacceptable. It’s an attack on the climate, consumers, state governments and the future viability of America’s auto industry. The Trump administration has decided to force America’s drivers to spend more at the gas pump, burn millions more barrels of oil, and put us on a path to greater harm from climate change.

“The administration’s proposal goes beyond a simple rollback. This is a demolition, and there’s no scientific or technological justification for it. In the past six years, automakers have built cleaner, more efficient vehicles in every class. Consumers have saved over $60 billion at the pump, while automakers have enjoyed strong auto sales and advanced technological innovation. Under this proposal, that progress comes to a screeching halt. In fact, we could wind up worse off in 2025 than we are today, making American auto manufacturing less competitive in the global market as other countries vault ahead of us on innovation.

“If this rollback proceeds as the administration suggests, our analysis shows that in 2030 alone we’d burn an extra 250 million barrels of oil, at a cost of $36 billion to America’s drivers. That would add up to $1,700 over the lifetime of the car for the average driver. This would eliminate half of the benefits from the post-2016 standards. In 2030 alone, we’ll see an additional 120 million metric tons of carbon emissions—the equivalent of running 30 coal-fired power plants for a year. There’s simply no reason to impose those extra costs on our wallets and our air.

“What’s more, in order to impose their vision on the country, the Trump administration has launched an unprecedented attack on state authority under the Clean Air Act. They intend to revoke the right of California, and the 13 other states that adopt California standards, to set a higher bar for their own constituents. This makes a mockery of the administration’s rhetoric about states’ authority and demonstrates disregard for well-settled law.

“Automakers bear a lot of the responsibility for the chaos that they’re about to experience. They asked the administration to re-open the standards, and their trade groups lobbied behind the scenes to weaken them, arming the administration with shoddy studies to support their case. If they were hoping for small changes to the standards, they clearly underestimated this administration’s feverish commitment to gutting rules which protect the public. If automakers want credit for caring about sustainability and climate change, they need to publicly demand that the administration reverse course.”

More Tepid Weasel Words

The Automotive Technology Leadership Group, whose members include many major suppliers to the automotive industry, contacted us to say it really, really, really, wants to see one national standard rather then the dual system that has existed for decades that forces manufacturers to build some vehicles that meet the standard set by California and the other states that follow its rules and some that don’t.

What is really going on here is a concerted effort by the industry to kill California’s waiver that has been in place for almost 40 years. The manufacturers sense an opportunity to finally drive a stake through the heart of the hated waiver. The lunatic policies promoted by the Trump maladministration are providing just the opening the car companies have been praying for and they intend to exploit that opening to the fullest.

Killing The Electric Car — Again

Yesterday, Tina Casey wrote an article for CleanTechnica explaining why the switch to renewable energy will continue despite efforts by the fossil fuel industry to hobble it. Basically, it comes down to the fact that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels and will continue to get cheaper over time. The question now becomes, if the EPA is successful at revoking the California waiver, will that be the end of the electric car revolution in America?

The answer is, it very well might be. Renewables may cost less than fossil fuels, but absent federal incentives, EVs still cost more to purchase than conventional cars. Yes, they may cost less to own over 5 years or more, but their sticker prices are still higher than their gas powered competitors. While Tesla has been pursuing the electric car revolution with a laser like focus, the major car companies have been fighting a rear guard action, dragging their feet on the way to the future as much as possible.

Do they even know that the Tesla Model 3 is outselling all premium medium sized cars combined? Have they noticed that the Tesla Model S is outselling the Mercedes S Class, the BMW 7 Series, and the Audi A8? Yet they continue to complain long and loud that “nobody wants to buy electric cars.” Oh, boo hoo. What they don’t understand is that no one wants to buy the crappy, half-baked electric cars they are offering. Their whining is nothing less than 100% Grade A, triple distilled horse puckey.

Ford Has A Better Idea

The same day Tesla’s Elon Musk was stunning the world with the news that its new self-driving computer is ten times faster than the current unit and will fit in to all Model S, Model X, and Model 3 cars because the company had the foresight to leave enough room for it in its original planning, Ford announced it has a new pothole detection system for the European Focus. Oh, be still my beating heart! That’s how Ford expects to compete with Tesla? Puh…leese.

Is anyone actually awake inside the Ford Motor Company or are they all so imbued with corporate groupthink they believe their puny announcement is actually anything but inconsequential trivia? Ford executives should be ashamed that pothole detection is all they can offer the buying public. They are reminiscent of the head of the US Patent Office who proudly proclaimed as the 19th century was drawing to a close, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” There’s a reason why Tesla stock is selling for almost 30 times the price of Ford stock.

Lawsuits Galore

The only Americans who stand to gain from the EPA’s announcement are the armada of lawyers who will challenge the new policy in court. California governor Jerry Brown said the EPA’s move was “reckless” and a “betrayal.” “California will fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible,” he added, according to The GuardianBecause the EPA action falls under its rule-making function, there will be a 60-day public comment period before the new policy becomes law. Expect it to become final towards the end of 2018.

So, the whole mess will wind up in the courts. Surely they will put stop to this nonsense, won’t they? Don’t get your hopes up. Trump and his co-conspirators have been stuffing the federal courts with loyal Federalist Society apparatchiks who have been suckled on Koch Brothers money. As a result of years of indoctrination, they believe all government regulation is bad, only corporations know what is in the public interest, and the “unitary executive” can do no wrong. New Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh fits that mold perfectly. Expect him to faithfully support anything the administration does.

What Can One Person Do? How About A Boycott?

The evil purpose of the Trump maladministration is now fully revealed for all to see. It involves poisoning every man, woman, and child in America in order to promote fossil fuel interests. Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler may not be the out and out crook that Scott Pruitt was, but he was the chief lobbyist for Murray Coal before taking his job at EPA. He resigned that position three days after Murray Coal made a $1 million dollar contribution to the Trump campaign, according to Food & Water Watch. At a time when Americans are finally waking up to the dangers of coal, the nation’s top environmental leader is an avowed coal advocate. If that isn’t corruption, what is?

It’s time to get angry. The conservatives reactionaries bleat long and loud about state’s rights when it suits their convenience. But when federal power threatens to smash their opponents, they are all for it. Two-faced, lying weasels. Start by not voting for any of these two-faced lying weasels in any election ever again.

You can also contact your elected officials in Congress to register your displeasure. Here is a link to the e-mail, phone numbers, and mailing addresses of every one of them. Believe it or not, you are free as an American to contact any one of them, even if he or she does not represent you directly. They hate it, but but they do listen — reluctantly.

Finally, boycott every member of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Go to their showrooms, ask to speak with the owner or general manager, and tell them directly to their face that you refuse to buy an automobile from them so long as they support the actions of the EPA. Contact their corporate headquarters. Tell your friends and co-workers what you are doing and why. The only thing these people understand is money. Lower sales will get their attention. Nothing else will.

Vote. Don’t buy a car from these lying losers. That’s not much but it may be enough.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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