THE NOVEL coronavirus has halted much of the country — but it has not stopped the Trump administration from ramming through unwarranted and unwise rollbacks of major environmental rules. Administration officials have pressed government workers, even amid the pandemic, to rip up regulations well before the November election, which would make them harder for a new president to reinstate. The pressure appears to be working.
The Environmental Protection Agency concluded on March 31 its years-long effort to quash car and truck fuel efficiency rules designed during President Barack Obama’s administration. The old regulations would have required steady 5 percent-per-year improvements in average fuel economy through 2025. The new ones demand only 1.5 percent annually through 2026. That may not sound like much of a difference, but the updated rules would allow perhaps 1 billion or more tons of extra planet-warming carbon dioxide to waft into the atmosphere — akin to opening dozens of coal-fired power plants. While auto sticker prices would be lower, forgone fuel savings would cost consumers over the lives of their vehicles.
The rationale for such a massive shift is so lame that the EPA struggled to get its cost-benefit numbers to add up. The agency’s own scientific advisory panel warned that the math underlying the new rule was riddled with weaknesses and improbabilities. The United States would move from a leader to a laggard in auto efficiency, which could also hurt U.S. carmakers’ ability to compete with foreign competitors. Years of litigation over this unjustifiable policy move will add more uncertainty to car companies’ manufacturing decisions.