UPDATE: Fighting for Successful Clean Car Standards

The Trump administration is making cars dirtier and more expensive to drive.

Clean car standards are good for our health, good for the environment, and good for our wallets.

The clean car standards are working, so why would we change them? Photo Credit: Creative Commons.

UPDATE: In the midst of a global pandemic, the Trump administration has taken the final steps to roll-back Obama-era rules that clean up our air and lower the carbon pollution from cars and trucks – often hailed as the federal government’s most important effort to tackle the climate crisis. Given that the communities that have so often been left to bear the brunt of air pollution are now most at risk from complications from COVID-19 and its economic fallout, the timing of this rollback is especially insensitive and irresponsible.

Known as the “clean car standards,” these rules would have significantly lowered tailpipe emissions and strengthened fuel efficiency, cleaning up our air and saving drivers money at the pump. Instead, this disastrous U-Turn ensures that the cars and trucks we drive will have a worse impact on our climate, cost more to fuel up, and make the air we breathe dirtier. Weakening these important rules is a rejection of science and public health, and is particularly alarming in light of the current respiratory pandemic.  

Last fall, the administration took the first step toward unraveling these protections by unlawfully revoking states’ authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and small trucks. CLF sued alongside fellow environmental and health groups.  

Having told the states they could no longer employ their own standards to protect local residents, the agencies’ second step was to weaken the federal rules that they claim are now the exclusive standard. That action was just finalized. So once again, CLF and our allies are suing the federal government to safeguard our health, our climate, and our wallets. 

This is not the first move made by this administration to weaken regulations designed to protect our communities and our health during the pandemic. Last week, Trump’s EPA announced that it would not enforce environmental rules that keep polluters in check – allowing dirty power plants, factories, and other facilities to dump harmful substances into nearby air and waters. And while this specific policy only applies to violations that occur as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the Trump administration may try to use this to open a backdoor to reward the worst polluters and punish the many responsible companies that make every effort to comply with the law.

In both of these instances, the Administration is exploiting a public health crisis to advance its agenda of reckless rollbacks and giveaways to polluters.


Today, the Trump administration moved to unwind critically important rules for combatting climate change, protecting community health, and saving us all money.

The Obama-era “clean car standards” were created to make our cars cleaner and more fuel-efficient. And they’re working – EPA itself has said so. Since 2011, the standards have reduced oil consumption in the region by 1.3 billion gallons. This helps clean up the air we breathe while reducing carbon pollution, cuts costs at the gas pump, spurs innovation and technological development, and creates jobs. But the Trump administration, bending to fossil fuel and certain automaker interests, wants to halt the rules in their tracks.

That’s why we’re fighting alongside states, environmental groups, and consumer advocates to block this irresponsible rollback and protect our health, our wallets, and our climate. You can weigh in, too, by letting the administration know you want to see car standards moving forward, not in reverse.

Trump’s Rollback Would Harm the Most Vulnerable Among Us

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the current clean car standards. The health benefits alone are reason enough to resist the rollback. Inefficient cars, trucks, and SUVs emit ground-level pollution, which dirties the air we breathe.

It’s not surprising, then, that tailpipe emissions have been linked to a variety of serious health problems, including worsening asthma – a condition already suffered by more than 26 million Americans. These health impacts are disproportionally suffered by low-income families and communities of color, who are already exposed to higher levels of air pollution.

The clean car standards were enacted to help curb these devastating and costly health impacts. Rolling them back now will harm the health of Americans, especially for the most vulnerable among us: children and the elderly.

Clean Car Standards Are Critical for Fighting Climate Change

Freezing the clean car standards also means more climate-damaging emissions, and the increased health and safety risks that come with them. Currently, transportation is the single biggest contributor to climate change in the United States. And in New England the numbers are staggering. For example in Maine, transportation contributes an alarming 54 percent of that state’s carbon emissions. And personal vehicles – the cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks that you and I drive around – are the leading cause.

The clean car standards are one of the best, if not the best, ways to address climate change at the federal level. These standards were adopted under the Obama administration, and comprise the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s fuel efficiency regulations and the Environmental Protection Agency’s tailpipe emission standards. They would have nearly doubled the fuel economy of certain vehicles to about 54 miles per gallon average by 2025. They’re essential for lowering our emissions in New England and across the U.S. At a time when climate action is imperative and the consequences are increasingly impossible to ignore, it’s irresponsible to walk the country back from this critical and successful standard.

What Role Do the States Play?

If the Trump administration is dead set on weakening these critical protections, you might think that states would step in and take action to protect their citizens’ health and pocketbooks. In fact, the Clean Air Act has provided states with just that authority for 50 years. Twelve states (plus a thirteenth recently announced) follow California’s stricter clean car standards to better protect their citizens from the harmful effects of transportation pollution.

But now Trump is hypocritically attacking states’ ability to manage their air pollution and decide what’s right for their citizens’ health. This rollback includes a provision that would block states from adopting stronger clean car standards as they have in the past.

Thankfully, 18 states are already fighting the Trump administration on these rollbacks. They sued earlier this year when the administration first announced its intent to move backwards on these important safeguards. And hypocritically, that announcement came after the EPA had already concluded that these clean car standards were not only successful, but automakers could achieve them at lower cost than previously thought.

We’ve joined the litigation, too, along with six national leading environmental and consumer advocacy groups. We’re challenging the rollback as unfounded and decided without proper review or evidence. And we’ll keep fighting every step of the way – the clean car standards are too important for us to sit idly by as the Trump administration strips Americans of vital health, safety, and environmental protections.

How You Can Make a Difference

This official rollback announcement kicks off a 60-day period in which the EPA will accept comments on the proposal. Here’s where you come in! Tell EPA why clean air matters to you and your family. Tell the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration why you want to spend less money at the gas pump. Tell both of these administrations what you think about climate change and how it impacts you.

The agencies will read and consider your comments. Your voice matters – let the Trump administration know that you’re paying attention and that this backwards policy is unacceptable.

(A version of this blog was originally published on August 2, 2018)

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.