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Trump’s fuel-economy changes will have insignificant climate impact

Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute takes aim at recent criticism of the Trump administration’s proposed changes in federal auto fuel-efficiency standards.

In a recent article in Energy and Environment News, several prominent climate scientists bash the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the Obama administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and carbon dioxide emission standards for model year 2021-2026 motor vehicles. Their argument, or rather innuendo, is that the Trump proposal is wrongheaded because, well, climate change is bad.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are proposing to maintain the Obama administration’s model year 2020 standards through model year 2026. Instead of the CAFE standard for passenger cars rising to 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025, the 2020 standard of 43 mpg would be retained through 2026.

The agencies estimate their proposal would save $250 billion in auto industry compliance costs, $77.1 billion in avoided traffic fatalities, and $120.4 billion in avoided serious injuries. If those estimates are anywhere near the ballpark—indeed, if revising the standards just helps middle-income households afford to buy new motor vehicles—the proposal makes sense, because sticking with the Obama standards would have no discernible climate benefits. …

… More importantly from a policy standpoint, an unverifiable bump of 0.003°C in global average temperature 82 years from now would make no practical difference to weather patterns, sea levels, polar bear populations, or any other environmental condition people actually care about.

Do the scientists quoted in the E&E News article—Kevin Trenberth (National Center for Atmospheric Research), Ralph Keeling (Scripps Oceanography), Daniel Schrag (Harvard University), Kate Marvel (Columbia University), and Michael Oppenheimer (Princeton University)—challenge the Trump agencies’ prudential judgment that the proposal’s potentially large economic and social benefits outweigh the vanishingly small climate impacts? Not directly, though they speak as if any retreat from the Obama standards is unconscionable because, well, climate change is bad.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...