The man who led the Trump transition’s landing team at the Environmental Protection Agency is hailing the administration for rolling back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards that he says would restrict consumer freedom, weaken vehicle safety, and have a much more limited impact on the environment than activists claim.
On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the shelving of the standards which required all cars and light trucks to have a fleet-level fuel efficiency of 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Proponents of the rule claim it would help the environment and speed up innovation in the auto industry in addition to lowering fuel bills.
But Myron Ebell, who spearheaded the Trump transition at EPA, says the real consequence of the rule would be the erosion of freedom.
“I think it’s a nightmare for consumers because what the government has done by vastly increasing the fuel economy standards is to tell consumers, ‘We don’t care what you want in a car and we don’t care how much it costs. We just care that it gets really good gas mileage. So that’s what you’re going to be able to buy,’” said Ebell.
Ebell is also director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He says the mandate was already driving up auto prices.
“Since these new standards were adopted in the Obama administration in the last four or five years, cars have already gone up a lot, several thousand dollars for the same car,” said Ebell.
Improvements in engine manufacturing have already led to greater fuel efficiency in recent decades, but Ebell says it’s obvious how consumers are approaching those improvements.
“Engines have been getting more efficient right along but drivers have been buying cars that use that greater efficiency to buy a bigger car or a faster car,” said Ebell.
Bigger and faster is not what we’d get under the old Obama rules.
“If they wanted to buy a car they could afford (starting in 2025), they would be faced with buying a much smaller car, a much lighter car, a much less powerful engine. Consequently, it wouldn’t meet the needs of a lot of people. Moreover, a smaller and lighter car is much [less] safe,” said Ebell.
Ebell suspects the Obama administration thought demand for such vehicles would be high if gas prices hadn’t come back down.
“The guess was in the Obama administration that, ‘We can make this work because we’re going to drive up the price of gasoline. And once gasoline gets to be six, seven, eight dollars a gallon, people will all want to buy much more fuel efficient cars and the additional cost of those cars they’ll be able to save in gas costs,’” said Ebell.
“But with gasoline under three dollars a gallon, people want the performance and they want the size. They’re willing to spend a certain amount each week on gasoline and they want a bigger and better car,” he added.
He is also skeptical of environmentalists’ claims that the Obama EPA rule would reduce greenhouse gases by the equivalent of 140 coal-fired power plants every year.
“All of these claims of savings of any type are always vastly exaggerated and in the end people find that they don’t get as good mileage and that the supposed environmental benefits are less,” said Ebell.
Ebell says the push for electric cars and even no cars by clustering the populace near mass transit options are other efforts to restrict freedom from the left. He lauds Pruitt for doing a “great job” advancing an “ambitious” Trump agenda in deregulating energy policy, especially for heavy industries.
However, he implores Trump to appoint more critical personnel to the EPA and for the Senate to act swiftly on the nominees that have been offered.
While Ebell and others cheer the scrapping of Obama’s fuel economy standards, California and other states plan to fight back. The Clean Air Act allows California to impose more stringent environmental standards than the federal government calls for and other states are attempting to follow suit.
Ebell says California can either toe the line on this or face a bruising court fight.
“The EPA can then move to revoke the waiver that California got from the EPA that allows them to be part of this process. Once the waiver is revoked, California, if they want to set their own standards, will have to go to court and win what would be a very major court victory and one that I doubt that they would win,” said Ebell.