Here’s my opinion: our sustainability efforts should always be in question. From eco-friendly purchases that prove individuals can make a difference to environmental policy that shows the power of the collective, the plight of the planet is a justice issue. That’s exactly what brings me to fuel efficiency standards.
Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rolled back vehicle fuel efficiency standards for car manufacturers. In a sweeping deregulatory move, they eliminated the requirement for automakers to increase fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks by 5% per year. The new regulation is soft, only requiring a 1.5% increase in efficiency for cars and trucks from now until the 2026 model year.
It’s called the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles Rule, or SAFE rule. But the name might just be a misnomer.
One result of the rollback is obvious: heightened profitability for the fossil fuel industry. But without a planet that can sustain life, there will be no oil industry at all — and no vehicle industry, either.
State and local governments respond to the fuel efficiency standard rollback
In response to the softened regulations on fuel efficiency standards, 23 states, 4 cities and Washington D.C. all retorted in disagreement.
The state of California is particularly peeved about this development. In the past, they were able to set their own regulations on fuel economy from automakers. This allowed them to stay ahead of the sustainable curve. But last year, decision makers revoked this capability, and now California has to suffer the brunt of the burden, too.
Does the new fuel efficiency standard’s reasoning hold water?
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler spoke on the matter during a press call in May. He said the decision to minimize fuel efficiency standards for automakers will cut the price of new cars and incentivize the purchase of newer, more efficient vehicles. Wheeler also claims it will save lives from traffic accidents.
In contrast, environmental activists say that cost cuts will only be relevant in the short term, and that higher fuel economy standards will be more financially beneficial in the long run. What’s more is it fails to protect the environment the way we need.
The current administration’s arguments are based on a specific analysis. Investigative reporters have researched this analysis and determined it’s been inflated to support their preferred findings. Moreover, EPA staff even warned that the new rule would be damaging.
In fact, the SAFE rule could result in up to 2 billion more barrels of fuel consumed over the lifetime of the automotives covered under the rule, as well as up to 923 million more metric tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
That’s all not to mention that thousands of jobs will be lost as a result of the new rule.
While it’s still under investigation, it’s possible that this new standard actually goes against existing policies like the Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act.
What the facts say about the current state of the climate
Statistics can be malleable. It’s totally possible to position reported numbers so they align with our own confirmation bias, ultimately validating beliefs we already held before the metrics arrived.
But when the majority of the world’s scientists validate scientific findings in an overarching consensus, it makes sense to believe them.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global temperatures are consistently on the rise. Here’s a chart from NOAA that showcases the rise in May temperatures since the end of the 19th century:
The earth has been through seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat over the course of 650,000 years. So what makes this time any different? Well, it has to do with humans.
According to evidence collected by NASA and other reputable organizations, this era of climate change is a direct result of human interference in the environment.
Global temperature rise, warming oceans, mass species extinction, shrinking ice sheets and rising sea levels are just some of the ways this is already affecting us.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide is a dangerous greenhouse gas, and fuel efficiency standards are one tool that can help revert the damage that’s already been done.
The danger of politicizing fuel economy is one that can harm us all
The environment is a human rights issue, too. Climate change in Florida is already disproportionately affecting areas of concentrated poverty. In the 20th century, Little Haiti was pushed back from the coast as a result of seaside gentrification. Now that rising sea levels are a threat, gentrification is rearing its head inland once more. Marginalized communities are being displaced by wealthier people who want safety from the storm.
This is just one example of how climate change is a justice issue. But regardless of civil rights, politicizing fuel efficiency standards is a danger to everyone’s home, Earth.
Are we doing enough in regards to fuel economy regulations? I, for one, think we can do a whole lot better.