Photo credit: EPA - Photo: 2019

Trump, Big Oil Double Down On Automobile Inefficiency

By William Mebane

The writer is former Director of Energy Efficiency Department at the Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA).

ROME (IDN) – A group of U.S. oil companies, including Chevron, Exxon Mobile, Marathon and Phillips – 66, together with the Trump Administration – are seeking to cancel the previously approved 2022-2025 requirements of energy efficiency in new cars, SUVs and pickup trucks.

As recently as January of 2017 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) affirmed that the 2022–2025 standards were technologically feasible and that benefits far exceeded costs. This is the single most important federal instrument for combating climate warming.

Instead now the Administration is challenging this affirmation and in August 2018 has submitted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which proposes freezing standards at model year 2020 levels through 2025, with the costs of the original requirements now estimated to exceed benefits (Federal Register, 2018).

An important recent study reported in Science by a prestigious team of eleven experts at UC Berkeley, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Yale and other universities concludes that “the 2018 analysis has fundamental flaws and inconsistences, is at odds with basic economic theory and empirical studies, is misleading, and does not improve estimates of costs and benefits of fuel economy standards beyond those in the 2016 analysis.”

The authors “recognize the inherent uncertainty in estimating costs of compliance through technologies, but we recommend the introduction of a safety valve to address this concern, rather than a rollback. Safety valves, common in cap-and-trade programs, allow firms to purchase compliance credits at a predetermined price, effectively capping compliance costs and allowing for less technology improvement if it turns out to be highly expensive. A rollback is an unnecessarily blunt way to achieve the same goal and introduces regulatory uncertainty into an industry that needs to make long-run technological investments for the future.” (Bento, A., et al, 2018)

The Trump administration also argues that tightening fuel efficiency requirements will make vehicles less safe because manufacturers will comply by making vehicles lighter. “However, there has been little or no correlation between vehicle safety and fuel economy, as fuel-efficient cars achieve excellent safety ratings.” Automobiles have been made lighter using various high-strength materials (Rizzoni, 2018).

From the climate warming perspective, according to the Marathon chief executive, this rollback would increase gasoline consumption 350 to 400 thousand barrels of gasoline per day (Tabuchi, H., 2018).

This extra 128 to 146 million barrels of gasoline per year would result in 54-61 million tons of additional carbon dioxide each year (Department of Energy, 2014). Clearly this is pushing climate change in the wrong direction and the petroleum industry has not attempted to prove the contrary.

With regard to the health problems of the additional exhaust gases in connection with the proposed rollback, the most harshly affected are those persons living near busy roadways. The EPA advises that, “with more than 45 million people in the U.S. living within 300 feet of a major transportation facility or infrastructure, notably busy roads, there is concern about the potential health impacts from air pollutants emitted from cars, trucks and other vehicles. Research has demonstrated that exposure to pollutants emitted from motor vehicles can cause lung and heart problems and premature death.” (EPA, 2018).

The automobile industry certainly is not in favor of the possibility of producing for two different standards one for California and other states fighting for the original proposal and one for the rollback. This would be costlier and would often force the consumer to accept a fuel efficiency level not of his preference.

As we know, more efficient automobiles reduce the consumers’ fuel bill. According to the chief executive of Marathon, avoiding the rollback would save consumers 350 to 400 thousand barrels of gasoline per day, about a million dollars a day at today’s prices. Instead with the rollback there is extra gasoline consumption, purchased from the oil companies of course. Consumers beware. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 January 2019]

Photo credit: EPA

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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Bento, A., et al, Science, December 7, 2018: Flawed analyses of U.S. auto fuel.

Department of Energy, Physical and chemical properties of gasoline: Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC), Properties of Fuels, 2014. See https://

EPA, Research on Near Roadway and Other Near Source Air Pollution, 2018, EPA site: pollution#roadways

Federal Register, Federal Register/Vol. 83, No. 165/Friday, August 24, 2018/Proposed Rules – Government › pdf › 2018-16820

Rizzoni G., Business Insider, The Conversation, October 2, 2018 Tabuchi, H., New York Times International, December 24-25, 2018

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