President scolds car makers for not embracing his plan to let them build gas guzzlers again, when the truth is they can’t afford to take that risk…
So maybe it is, but it shouldn’t really be a surprise when a growing number of automakers are trying to cut their own emissions deals, but with the State of California, not with Trump. Unless you’re surprised that California has special waivers that allow it to impose different tailpipe standards than the federal government. Many other states pretty much automatically follow California’s lead. Trump, naturally, wants to put an end to these waivers, which trace back to the late 1960s, and then California Governor Ronald Reagan.
It’s actually kind of amazing how many common-sense environmental measures trace back to Republicans: for instance the establishment of the E.P.A, and the Endangered Species Act were both shepherded by President Nixon. So promoting cars that don’t pollute less and aren’t more fuel efficient, isn’t necessarily one of those actions that any Republican President would’ve taken. Yeah, they might’ve tried to gut some things in favor of big business, and might not be strong on new restrictions. But Trump’s trying to gut everything. (Just last week he went after that same Endangered Species Act.) And as we’ve pointed out before, those Republicans didn’t support those laws and regulations because they were tree-huggers, they did it because when left to regulate themselves, American companies behaved very very badly.
Trump’s Tweet was in reaction to this story in the New York Times, which said the White House was so alarmed that automakers Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW were cutting their own deal with California, it called Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors into the White House to try to get them to agree not to, and stick with Trump. Trump’s Tweet indicates those talks may not have yielded much success. In fact, the Times article also says Mercedes-Benz is joining the California deal, something the Governor of California later confirmed. Those automakers have agreed with California to emissions goals just slightly less aggressive than what President Obama had required: 51 mpg by 2026, instead of Obama’s 54.5 by 2025. And they did it even without seeing what Trump was going to put on the table, although he’d suggested he’d require no improvements past current levels, and would fight California’s right to continue to set its own standards.
Trump can promote a lot of pollution and rollbacks of environmental and workplace standards when it comes to coal plants, and chemical plants, and even meat processors (all the while proclaiming his commitment to “crystal clear water”). That’s because those companies (a surprisingly large number of which are owned by the Koch brothers), do all their polluting inside the U.S. and can’t really be constrained by the environmental standards of other countries. But automakers do not have that luxury. They’ve got to accommodate a global standard. Because they’ve got to compete globally. They’ve got to spend the same R&D money whether they use the fruits of their innovation in the U.S. or not. So why not use it?
Let’s break down the President’s Tweet for a sec.:
• First of all, we don’t think the carmakers’ actions have anything to do with “political correctness”. And even if carmakers saw “political correctness” in the form of less polluting, more efficient cars as a total ploy by which they could get people to buy more cars, why would Trump be against that?
• The President’s presumption that less fuel efficient cars are safer has a lot to do with the idea that people will drive less if they have to spend more on gas, and therefore get into fewer accidents so their insurance rates will be lower; very little to do with those cars actually being what you and I would think of as safer. And the lower price tag? Yeah, people would more likely buy more new cars if they were cheaper, getting older more dangerous cars off the road. But pulling out fuel-saving technology by definition makes the cost of operating less fuel efficient cars higher. The President isn’t even considering that side of the equation.
• Speaking of equations, the President is also playing with numbers here: he says in his Tweet his way looser rules would lower the average price of a car by $3,000. Except his own E.P.A. estimates the savings would be way less than that: $2,340. Still a considerable amount, but not even close to the price the President’s settled on (and as usual, he offers no source).
• The last piece of the President’s argument: “Very little impact on the environment!”, is the most galling. Because first of all, shouldn’t the goal be to make the environment at least a little better, not about the same? (Especially since he doesn’t specify if “very little impact” means very little better or very little worse.) Especially if you’ve got the technology to do it, or will soon anyway? And secondly, this whole argument is a bit of a ruse. Because, for instance, sulfur dioxide pollution has really been improving, though it’s flattened under Trump’s administration. Lower tailpipe standards would likely reverse that improvement. Still, by historical standards, those levels might stay below what they were a dozen years ago or whatever, and the President would still technically be right. But is that the way we want to go? Driving back toward the days of smog? As we’ve noted before, when the Trump administration talks about air pollution it almost always presents it in a timeline of several decades, during which most everything has improved considerably, masking the fact that almost everything’s also gotten a lot worse since Trump took office.