In a time when millions have been laid off in the wake of the coronavirus and too many families are struggling to make ends meet, the Trump administration’s new vehicle emission standards are a step in the right direction that America needs.
The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule will cut the average price of new vehicles by $1,000 without compromising the rigorous environmental standards that have made America a world leader in clean air.
During my nearly two decades of working with the trucking industry, I learned that regulations like fuel economy and emissions standards significantly increase the cost of getting goods from warehouses and factories to stores. Those costs are ultimately passed along to all of us in the form of higher prices.
Heavy-handed emissions regulations have the same unintended consequence on passenger cars. Increasing fuel economy may seem like a noble idea — and it’s an idea many support — but it ends up tying manufacturers’ hands and driving prices up. Manufacturers are forced to produce cars most customers don’t want, in order to make their fleets meet emission standards, and charge more for the cars they make. Car prices have been rising significantly faster than income in recent years, thanks in large part to these constantly escalating regulations.
Rather than take out hefty loans for more expensive vehicles, many people choose to keep their old cars longer. The average American drives a car that’s nearly 12 years old, the highest since researchers began tracking this data in 2002. Though continuing to drive an old car that still runs might be the frugal choice — and many families living paycheck-to-paycheck have no other choice — older vehicles also come with serious safety risks.
Given the new safety features and better overall design of new cars, the SAFE Rule is projected to save 3,300 lives over the next 10 years and keep 46,000 people out of the hospital following a crash—all because they were able to afford a newer car that was previously out of reach.
Even before the coronavirus struck our economy, far too many families were trapped in what public policy experts call “energy poverty,” meaning the inability to comfortably afford the energy we rely on every day, including electricity and natural gas bills as well as gasoline.
Though many may assume energy poverty is rare, or at least confined to those below the federal poverty limit, data on energy poverty is sobering. Nearly a third of households have struggled to pay their electric bills. Over 20% chose to forego other necessities like food or medication to keep the lights on, and more than 7 million families face that devastating choice nearly every month.
Energy poverty is particularly severe when it comes to transportation. Driving costs are among the least elastic expenses due to the need to get to and from work, and they affect low-income families the most. That savings of $1,000 per car is significant for households living paycheck-to-paycheck. Ultimately, any action to reduce the burden of energy poverty does a great service to low-income Americans and to our economy as a whole.
President Trump’s opponents will quickly retort that environmental protection should be the government’s priority and the Obama administration’s slightly stricter emissions regulations would yield more long-term benefits. They’re wrong on both counts.
Though many claim the impact of vehicle emissions on the climate will result in communities ravaged by storms, wildfires, and floods, historical weather data shows no increase in the number or severity of natural disasters. In fact, 98.9% fewer people die in climate-related weather events than a century ago.
Even if reducing CO2 emissions had some direct impact on human health, reducing emissions by 1.5% instead of the Obama administration’s preferred 5% would have literally no measurable effect. Even totally eliminating emissions nationwide by 2030, as called for in the Green New Deal, would reduce global temperatures by a measly 0.139° Celsius at the end of the century — and that’s if historically overly sensitive climate data models turned out to be accurate.
Meanwhile, America is leading the world in clean air — a statistic that surprises many. The nation has cut the six “criteria pollutants” that harm human health by 74% since 1970. Those gains occurred while total miles traveled more than doubled, not to mention dramatic economic and population growth, and the trend is continuing upward.
Ultimately, the SAFE Rule doesn’t prohibit auto manufacturers from increasing fuel efficiency by more than 1.5% or cutting CO2 emissions more than required — it simply affirms that the poorest among us shouldn’t be forced to subsidize the virtue-signaling liberal climate change agenda.
As time and innovation progress, emission-reducing technology will become more efficient and cheaper for those who choose it. However, our elected leaders’ first priority should always be the safety of their constituents.
The EPA’s work to roll back needlessly expensive regulations puts money back into the pockets of the families who need it most. The SAFE Rule is a good move for the American people.
This commentary originally appeared in RealClearEnergy on April 14, 2020.