WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Former President Barack Obama expressed dismay on Tuesday after the Trump administration completed a rollback of his biggest effort to combat climate change.
In a tweet of a Los Angeles Times report on the news, Obama suggested the repeal of vehicle admissions standards was a result of “climate denial.” He also seemed to suggest Trump has been in denial about the coronavirus outbreak.
The ex-Democratic president went on to beseech Americans to vote in the November elections.
“We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic. We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial,” Obama said. “All of us, especially young people, have to demand better of our government at every level and vote this fall.”
We've seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic. We can't afford any more consequences of climate denial. All of us, especially young people, have to demand better of our government at every level and vote this fall. https://t.co/K8Ucu7iVDK
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 31, 2020
Obama has largely refrained from taking direct aim at President Donald Trump, even as the Republican has repeatedly bashed him. But Obama has previously spoken out in defense of his policies, including the Affordable Care Act, and he and his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, have made their disapproval clear enough.
The Trump administration on Tuesday completed a rollback of vehicle emissions standards adopted under Obama and will require 1.5 percent annual increases in efficiency through 2026 — far weaker than the 5 percent increases in the discarded rules.
The announcement — condemned by Democrats and environmentalists while being lauded by big business — sets up a legal battle, with California and 22 other states planning to challenge the rewrite of what had been one of most ambitious U.S. policies aimed at combating climate change.
The Trump administration called the move its largest single deregulatory action and said it would will save automakers upwards of $100 billion in compliance costs. The policy reversal marks the latest step by Trump, a Republican, to erase environmental policies pursued by Obama, a Democrat.
Reactions after Trump rolls back Obama vehicle emission standards
James Owens, acting head of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the plan “strikes the right balance between environmental considerations, health and safety considerations and economic considerations.”
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, disagreed, saying the administration’s decision will harm public health and endanger U.S. economic security.
“The Trump administration’s anti-science decision to gut fuel standards will unleash massive amounts of pollution into the air at the worst possible time,” Pelosi said, alluding to the coronavirus pandemic.
A coalition of states previously challenged the Trump administration’s decision to revoke California’s authority to set its own stiff vehicle tailpipe emissions rules.
Under the Obama rules, automakers were to have averaged about 5 percent per year increases in fuel efficiency through 2026, but the industry lobbied Trump to weaken them. The new requirements mean the U.S. vehicle fleet will average 40.4 miles per gallon rather than 46.7 mpg under the Obama rules.
The Trump administration said the new rules will result in about 2 billion additional barrels of oil being consumed and 867 to 923 additional million metric tons of carbon dioxide being emitted and boost average consumer fuel costs by more than $1,000 per vehicle over the life of their vehicles.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the rule “strikes the right regulatory balance that protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry.”
Obama’s environmental policies were intended to cut carbon emissions that drive climate change, while Trump has ditched numerous environmental regulations that his administration deemed harmful to industry and has aimed to increase the use of fossil fuels. Trump also pulled the United States out of a global climate accord and moved to reverse clean water regulations and pollution standards for coal-burning power plants.
The Trump administration in August 2018 initially proposed freezing requirements at 2020 levels through 2026. Reuters reported in October automakers expected a 1.5 percent annual increase after talks with administration officials.
An automotive trade group that represents General Motors Co , Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp and others, said that automakers need policies that support “a customer-friendly shift” toward electrified and other highly efficient technologies. “We are carefully reviewing the full breadth of this final rule to determine the extent to which it supports these priorities,” it said.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, criticized the administration “for exploiting the cover of a pandemic to roll back the clean car standards, which are crucial public health safeguards,” referring to the coronavirus crisis.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business group, said the final rule provides a “workable path forward on a unified national program that provides regulatory certainty while strengthening fuel economy standards and continuing emissions reductions.”
Saving American money and lives?
The administration said the revised rules will cut the future price of new vehicles by around $1,000 and reduce traffic deaths. Environmentalists dispute the analysis that the rule will reduce traffic deaths.
The final rule acknowledges that drivers will pay more in higher fuel costs than they will save in new vehicle prices but said they will save more in overall vehicle ownership costs.
It said it will reduce up to 1.8 million crashes and lower “the auto industry’s costs to comply with the program, with a commensurate reduction in per-vehicle costs to consumers, the standards enhance the ability of the fleet to turn over to newer, cleaner and safer vehicles.”
The Trump administration has battled with California over auto regulations. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department closed an antitrust investigation into a voluntary agreement that four automakers reached with California on emissions without taking any action.
Ford Motor Co, BMW AG, Honda Motor Co and VW struck a voluntary deal with California last year on emissions standards, prompting the investigation. The deal with the California Air Resources Board bypassed a White House effort to strip the state of the right to fight climate change and drew Trump’s ire.
Ford said on Tuesday it remains “committed to meeting emission reductions consistent with the California framework.”
(Reuters contributed to this report.)