The Trump administration is expected to announce next week that it will relax greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks that were last approved more than five years ago.
Auto manufacturers are welcoming the move as a way to keep prices more affordable. Environmentalists, however, say the move will undo years of progress making cleaner cars and will result in more pollution, especially in a state like Maine.
Just a few years ago, the average SUV or small truck got about 18 or 19 miles to the gallon. But fuel efficiency standards have required manufacturers to improve that performance — and they have. These days, those same vehicles average about 25 mpg. Some larger vehicles do even better.
Tasha LeMay and Brandy Brougham are marveling over the features of their new Honda Odyssey, a minivan that they’re picking up from the dealer for use at work. The Odyssey averages about 28 mpg, and Brougham says fuel economy is a big concern. With 100 or so vehicles in their company fleet, they’re looking to save money as well as comfortably transport clients.
“This will be a vehicle for one specific program and we have a budget of how much gas we should stay within in the month, and we try to stay below it or not go over it,” she says.
For smaller cars and trucks, fuel efficiency is even greater. Under the current standards, they’ll be expected to get more than 50 mpg by 2025. But President Donald Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt have indicated that they think the so-called “cleaner car” standards are inappropriate.
“We are going to ensure that any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs, your factories. We’re going to be fair. We’re going to be fair,” Trump said, speaking to Detroit auto workers last year.
“I think this issue is going to get bogged down in the courts for a long time,” says Adam Lee, the chairman of the Lee Auto Group, one of the biggest car dealers in the state.
Lee is an anomaly in the world of auto sales, a dealer who has long supported clean emissions and fuel economy standards because he thinks they’re better for the environment and for consumers, who save more money at the gas pump.
Lee says he also supports the right of states to set fuel efficiency standards that are tougher than the federal government’s.
Thirteen states, including Maine, do that. They followed the lead of California, which Pruitt has said should not be the “arbiter” of the nation’s emissions.
“It sends up a major conflict, particularly with Republicans who feel the state should have the right to make their own laws. And in this case, our laws are stricter than the federal government’s laws. We should be able to maintain that.”
Attorneys general from New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, as well as the other states, have indicated that they’ll join with California to fight the Trump administration, if necessary. Together they represent about a third of the auto market.
The EPA has an April 1 deadline to accept or reject emission standards that were originally set by the Obama administration.
For disclosure, Adam Lee is a member of Maine Public’s board of trustees.
This story was originally published March 30, 2018 at 5:47 p.m. ET.