Mayors: EPA move to roll back vehicle emissions standards threatens Utahns’ health, air quality improvements

State air quality plans for future improvement depend – in part – on higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Traffic on State Street in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, January 17, 2018.

The decision by Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt to revoke standards that require cars and light trucks to be cleaner and more fuel efficient is a potential setback to the progress we’ve made along the Wasatch Front to improve air quality and protect Utahns’ health.

Pruitt’s move to re-write the nation’s first-ever carbon limits on cars and SUVs takes us in the wrong direction and wreaks havoc on years of bipartisan progress towards cleaner air.

We know that the biggest source of small particulate pollution that fouls the air during winter inversions is our vehicles. State air quality plans for future improvement depend – in part – on higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards that increase vehicle efficiency and get more miles per gallon across the fleet of vehicles sold.

Since the oil embargo of the 1970s, these standards have always been strengthened. In 2009, a historic agreement between the federal government, state regulators and the auto industry established a national program to implement the first meaningful fuel efficiency improvements in over 30 years. The joint EPA/National Highway Transportation Safety Administration rule applied to model years 2012 to 2016, requiring a fleet-wide average of 35.5 mpg by 2016.

In 2010, the administration came up with a proposed CAFÉ standard for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The Republican transportation secretary at that time, Ray LaHood said, “This will be win, win, win; it will reduce reliance on oil, strengthen energy security and mitigate climate change.”

Building on that success, the second phase of fuel economy and global warming pollution standards for light duty vehicles covers model years 2017-2025, raising the average to 54 miles per gallon by 2025. The rule received broad support from automobile manufacturers, national manufacturers, organized labor, and environmental advocates. That’s what Pruitt now wants to roll back.

Not only have these standards reduced oil consumption, saved consumers money at the pump and protected public health, they helped spur investments in new automotive technology, creating jobs and sustaining the recovery of the American auto industry. A 2012 study concluded that the second round of standards alone would create an estimated 570,000 jobs throughout the U.S. economy by 2030. The two standard increases combined will reduce pollution by as much as 570 million metric tons in 2030. This is the equivalent to shutting down 140 typical coal-fired power plants for an entire year.

Automakers have been constructive partners during the fuel efficiency standards debate. They favor standards that increase year over year, if the government recognizes that they need flexibility to deal with the realities of the market (such as low gasoline prices that favor consumer choice of larger vehicles). They’ve repeatedly asked the White House to lead efforts with EPA, NHTSA and automakers to determine appropriate adjustments, not rollbacks.

Numerous health studies reinforce that the Wasatch Front’s air pollution is not just a nuisance, it’s dangerous. A January study published by Harvard University researchers suggest air pollution may be killing elderly Utahns; even short-term exposure to small amounts of particulate pollution caused a noticeable increase in the number of deaths among American 65 and older. Utah health studies have linked serious harm from air pollution to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Health researchers have consistently called for stronger, not weaker air quality standards.

At a time when we’ve made great bipartisan progress, with all levels of local, state and federal government working cooperatively towards our clean air goals, we urge Pruitt to reconsider his position. Utahns’ health, our economy and our environment are at stake.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake County Council Members Arlyn Bradshaw, Jim Bradley and Jenny Wilson; Millcreek City Mayor Jeff Silvestrini, Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Peterson, Bluffdale Mayor Derk Timothy, Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.