An all-out assault

By John Biers — The White House clashed with environmentalists last Wednesday over President Donald Trump’s retreat from tough future auto emission standards, with both sides predicting potentially big consequences for America’s car fleet. Appearing in Detroit, Trump ordered a review of the Obama administration’s decision in January to finalise stiff fuel economy standards for the 2022-2025 period.
Trump cast his decision as a defence of American jobs, while his new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt — an avowed skeptic of climate-change science — decried the rules as “costly for automakers and the American people.”
But the Natural Resources Defence Council warned the move would lead to a proliferation of gas guzzlers, while Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer called the decision “one of the first steps in an all-out assault by the Trump administration to dismantle important environmental protections.”
Although Trump’s action opens the door to a potentially big change, auto industry experts said it is more likely the actual consequences will turn out to be less monumental than suggested by the rhetoric on both sides. “It’s safe to assume, I imagine, we’ll have a less strict proposal sometime in the future,” said David Whiston, an auto industry equity analyst at Morningstar who predicted major investments in hybrid and more efficient internal combustion technology would
have lasting impacts.
“Long term, companies are still going to invest in electric, and plug-in hybrids and hydrogen regardless of what these rules are.”
US automakers have already sunk large amounts into factories and technology programmes to meet tough fuel economy standards in America and other key markets, such as Europe and China, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) said.
“Anything that puts the US 2025 standards at risk carries with it the risk that the US could once again become a relative technology laggard in the industry, with clear implications for US-based companies’ competitive position,” the think-tank said.
Trump’s move on Wednesday concerns a deal originally struck between Obama and many leading automakers in 2011 that envisioned a series of gradual increases through 2025, when average fuel economy would rise to 54.5 miles per gallon.
To meet the standards, automakers have adopted lighter-weight materials such as aluminium and structural tweaks to promote better aerodynamics, among other moves. As part of the agreement, the auto industry won a promise for a “midterm evaluation” of the deal scheduled for 2018 to assess the standards in light of technological changes and business conditions. — AFP