Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a set of cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The justices’ decision in this pending case, West Virginia v. EPA, would have a huge impact on environmental law…
Before Rolling Back Tailpipe Standards – Consider Gas Tax, Air Quality
The Environmental Protection Agency will decide by April 1 if future vehicle emissions standards should be eased – a decision long advocated for by the automotive industry.
Charles Driscoll, a professor at Syracuse University’s College of Civil Engineering and Computer Science, has extensively researched the consequences of planned environmental rollbacks at power plants. He says this latest EPA move within the automotive industry is similar to what’s been seen at power plants.
“In general, there are more advantages to having efficient vehicles on the road. Driving efficient vehicles means better use of fossil fuels and less carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. If you’re improving the efficiency of cars, you’re mitigating the impacts of climate change while also improving air quality.
“Under this new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal, there would be some advantages for automakers. But it’s a little strange that something that’s been in the pipeline since 2011 is now potentially being rolled back by the current administration. Automakers should be fairly far down the road in their technology development to meet the previously set standards.
“California drives the country in terms of air quality standards. They’ve been challenged for decades in attaining acceptable air quality. I’ve seen reports from California that show state leaders are very concerned about air quality and fuel efficiency. One issue – nitrogen oxides. These gases are released in vehicle exhaust and react with sunlight and organic substances in the atmosphere to produce ground-level ozone which we sometimes call smog, and there are significant health and ecosystem impacts associated with ozone. Part of the reason for better fuel efficiency is to help areas like California that are regularly challenged to meet air quality standards. It’s likely that state leaders may keep more rigid standards than national guidelines – which would have a huge impact because the large population in California is an important economy for the automotive industry.
“People really do have a deep concern about air quality, whether they identify as Republican or Democrat – it doesn’t make a difference. This is a very bipartisan issue. As this is the first announcement of this policy change, it will be very interesting how it plays out ahead of the April 1 deadline.”
David Driesen is University Professor at the Syracuse University College of Law, whose research focus includes environmental law. Driesen says the federal government’s plans to weaken federal standards is part of a broad-based campaign to destroy rule of law in the U.S.
“The Clean Air Act has permitted California to set cutting-edge vehicle standards since the 1960s when Congress first authorized federal emission standards for vehicles. Trump’s proposal to weaken federal standards and then attack California’s rights has nothing to do with sound environmental policy. It constitutes part of a broad-based campaign to destroy the rule of law in the United States by dismantling our Democratic system’s checks and balances—in this case by attacking states’ rights
“This attack on states’ rights complements Trump’s destruction of government agencies by placing opponents of the law in charge of them and fomenting a mass exodus of experts from EPA, the State Department, and other government agencies. And it is consistent with Trump’s attacks on our free press and independent judiciary.”
Professor David Popp researches environmental economics at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He says increasing gasoline taxes – which have not gone up since 1993 – would force drivers to consider the true costs of driving, including the environmental damage from pollution.
“Countless studies show that industry representatives do not provide accurate estimates of the costs of proposed regulations. Time and time again, firms respond to new regulations with innovative solutions that allow them to meet these regulations at lower costs than expected. There is no reason to expect things to be different this time.
“That said, automakers are correct that higher fuel efficiency standards push consumers to buy vehicles that they don’t currently want. To sell these vehicles, automakers lower prices on more efficient vehicles to stay in compliance with fuel economy standards. But this is because consumers don’t pay the full cost of driving. The proposed increase in fuel economy standards is designed to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gasses associated with global warming.
“Raising gasoline taxes would be a better option. The federal gasoline tax is just 18.4 cents per gallon and has not increased since 1993. Higher gasoline taxes would force consumers to consider the true costs of driving – including environmental damage from pollution, increased traffic congestion, and wear and tear on roads and bridges. Faced with these true costs, consumers would demand the more fuel-efficient vehicles proposed by this regulation. Automakers would be able to sell more efficient vehicles without the worry of lower profits.”
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