Finalized SAFE policy slashes vehicle emission standards

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have released the finalized Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule.

A rollback of policy put in place during the Obama presidency, SAFE will tighten carbon dioxide emissions standards by 1.5% a year through model year 2026. Under the Obama policy, those emissions would have been further cut, at 5% annually.

More concretely, the estimate is that this ruling will lead to a 40.4 mpg overall industry average required fuel economy in model year 2026. Under the Obama policy, that figure would be a projected 46.7 mpg.

According to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao:

“This rule reflects the Department’s #1 priority—safety—by making newer, safer, cleaner vehicles more accessible for Americans who are, on average, driving 12-year-old cars.”

As can be expected, the finalized rule has been met with criticism and backlash by environmental advocates, especially amid the current economic dive.

“This Trump administration rule proposal to reduce fuel-economy standards would be a harmful step backward, increasing air pollution that causes respiratory illness and forcing drivers to pay more at the pump, all at a time when Americans are struggling with health and economic hardship,” said Aaron Kressig, transportation electrification manager for Western Resource Advocates. “Increased electric vehicle use is also crucial to reducing the emissions that drive climate change and affect the health and welfare of our families as well as generations to come.”

“This rollback represents a self-inflicted wound to our economy right in the heart of an economic crisis,” said Sandra Purohit, director of federal advocacy for Environmental Entrepreneurs. “In America, 740,000 jobs depend on workers making cleaner vehicles and the parts that make vehicles more fuel-efficient, saving families and business from coast-to-coast money at the gas pump.”

In addition, many early reactions accused the rule of being an instance of giving the automakers ‘what they want,’ an idea challenged by the Natural Resources Defense Council and others.

“The EPA reports that automakers are meeting the standards that have been gradually strengthened since 2012. Over the eight years, these standards have cut carbon pollution by more than 455 million metric tons and saved drivers $86 billion at the pump, according to EPA data. Auto sales have boomed as consumers have clamored for cars, SUVs, and light trucks that are cleaner and more fuel efficient. Building better vehicles continues to help us weather market downturns (with better fuel economy) and fight climate change (with lower emissions).”

However, just because a final ruling was issued, does not mean SAFE will be implemented as it stands. The decision is all but guaranteed to be challenged in court.