Trump and Science: The dim disconnect continues | Editorial

Posted Apr 05, 2020

Against the wishes of half the auto industry, two dozen governors, the science community, every green group on the planet, and 7 in 10 consumers, President Trump has decided that it’s time to roll back vehicle fuel efficiency standards, which is the climate policy equivalent of licking doorknobs.

This could be the most consequential retreat from climate action in history, so the timing is odd that Trump’s terrestrial death wish is ticking up just as we are in the clutches of a global pandemic.

Perhaps they are indistinguishable through his ashy prism: Neither has inspired him to heed the warnings of science, and he shows little interest in preventing either crisis, both of which could kill millions and fundamentally break society.

So Barack Obama’s remark from Tuesday seemed spot-on: “We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic,” the former president tweeted. “We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial.” If only.

Indeed, one might have thought that COVID-19 would serve as a wakeup call for those who do not put science at the forefront of environmental and health policies, and inspire our leaders to use this tragedy as a beacon for proactive leadership.

But Trump’s new assault on the planet shows that he is indifferent to human cost, because fossil fuel interests have convinced him that there is still some runway left before we reach the precipice.

Obama used the last crisis to do something smart for the environment: After the Great Recession hit in 2008, he used the federal bailout of car companies to leverage GM and Chrysler into doubling the fuel efficiency of their fleets, which many regard as the biggest step any nation has ever taken to address global warming.

But Trump’s rollback will allow American cars to emit nearly 1 billion more tons of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the vehicles than they would have created under the Obama-era rules.

And there are other jarring consequences.

As we endure the biggest unemployment spike in history, the rollback will lead to 10,000 fewer auto industry jobs per year, according to Trump’s own EPA and the Department of Transportation, because tougher standards and ramped-up production of fuel-saving electrics would have created a need for more workers.

Moreover, the savings one gains from purchasing less efficient vehicles will be overridden by higher costs at the pump: A study from Consumer Reports in November found that the Trump rule would raise the net cost per vehicle by $2,100, and result in a net loss of $300 billion for American consumers.

More than a dozen states, including California and New Jersey, want to preserve their right to craft their own regulations under the Clean Air Act, and they have been joined in a lawsuit by a dozen other states — plus heavyweights such as Honda, Ford, and BMW — to block implementation of Trump’s rule. Godspeed.

You’d think that government can react to new scientific realities, particularly those that are like a “a splash of cold water in its face,” as Bill McKibben put it last week. But there is no such hope for Trump. In February, he tried to roll back a rule that reduces mercury from coal plants. Last week, the EPA instructed petrochemical plants and other polluters that it could monitor their own pollution levels during the COVID crisis. Since taking office, Trump has rolled back 95 environmental regulations.

Now he will throw the American auto industry into chaos, in this bid to drop fleet averages from 54 to 40 miles per gallon. At the same time, the European Union has set a standard of 76 mpg for 2030 and ramped up on production of electrics. All this winning.

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