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President Donald Trump’s administration officially proposed Thursday to freeze federal fuel economy standards after the 2020 model year, reversing President Barack Obama’s move to cement the regulations late in his administration.
How does it affect you?
Views vary widely in a debate involving regulators, politicians, consumer advocates, states, environmentalists and automakers.
Here are the key areas in dispute:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the proposed freeze would prevent vehicle prices from increasing by an average of about $2,340.
Automakers have also argued against increased standards for this reason.
“Automakers support continued improvements in fuel economy and flexibilities that incentivize advanced technologies while balancing priorities like affordability, safety, jobs and the environment,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents major auto companies on U.S. policy issues, said in a statement.
But consumer advocates contend that fuel economy improvements save drivers on gas in the long run. There’s also no guarantee that automakers can’t achieve higher gas-mileage standards without increasing prices.
The Obama administration’s EPA had estimated in January 2017 that the increased standards after 2020 would save consumers an average of $1,650 in fuel costs over the lifetime of a new vehicle.
2. The environment
Environmentalists contend that weaker gas-mileage standards worsen climate change by creating more greenhouse gas emissions. They say that more fuel-efficient cars will help curb these harmful effects.
Trump’s EPA argued that avoiding stricter standards keeps vehicles cheaper, which allows consumers to replace their older, less-fuel-efficient cars with newer more fuel-efficient cars.
Generally speaking, newer vehicles are more fuel-efficient than older cars, when comparing the same models.
The problem is that many consumers are trading in fuel-sipping small cars for less fuel-efficient SUVs as gas prices remain low. That paves the way for more harmful emissions.
“The administration’s proposed freeze of these standards after 2020 reflects a denial of the solid scientific and engineering research that justifies steady, ongoing increases in vehicle efficiency as a critical, cost-effective opportunity to limit U.S. petroleum demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” wrote John DeCicco, a research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute.
NHTSA argued Thursday that the plan would save lives. It’s a roundabout take that goes something like this: Preventing higher vehicle costs makes new cars with better safety technology more affordable for consumers, thus preventing roadway deaths.
It’s true that newer vehicles typically have more safety technology than older models, including systems such as lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert.
But the argument that it makes a big impact is “laughable,” said Robert Weissman, president of watchdog group Public Citizen, in a statement. “That claim gives fig leaves a bad name.”
UM’s DeCicco came to a similar conclusion: “The administration’s claims that weaker fuel economy standards will improve safety have no statistical grounding and are contradicted by years of evidence to the contrary.”
Another problem: As consumers replace older vehicles with new SUVs, pedestrians are at a much greater risk of dying, a Detroit Free Press/USA TODAY NETWORK investigation recently found.
4. States’ rights
California, for example, has been historically allowed to set more stringent emissions standards than the federal government to curb pollution.
But the Trump administration is seeking to remove that authority, saying the nation should have one standard, not a hodgepodge of rules. Automakers have backed Trump on this.
It’s a legal battle in the making.
“The California Department of Justice will use every legal tool at its disposal to defend today’s national standards and reaffirm the facts and science behind them,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
“Our nation’s Clean Car Standards save consumers thousands of dollars, protect our families’ health, and ensure that we continue tackling climate change, the most important global environmental issues of our time.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
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