Op-EdsAugust 9, 2018

Fuel Economy Standards Can’t Save The Climate — We Need Better Policy

Vehicle efficiency standards have been a cornerstone of U.S. energy policy since the 1970s, but their ability to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector is increasingly limited. It is time for policy advocates at all levels to start designing and implementing more effective policy, writes Lab partner Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.
Last week, the Trump Administration laid out its long-anticipated plan to roll back fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles sold between 2021 and 2025. In short, the administration is proposing to freeze the standards at 2020 levels instead of maintaining the more ambitious schedule of improvements through 2025 set forth by the Obama Administration. It is also planning to revoke California’s Clean Air Act Preemption Waiver, thereby prohibiting the state from setting its own greenhouse gas emission standards and maintaining other related policies such as zero emissions vehicle mandates.
Without question, the proposal represents an important shift in U.S. energy and climate policy. Some have even suggested that this rollback is likely the Trump Administration’s most significant climate policy rollback to date. The impending court battle over California’s waiver is perhaps the most consequential element—if the Trump administration prevails in the now more right-leaning Supreme Court, the state could lose its current authority to set independent vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards.
But as opponents of the proposal gear up for a fight, it is worth asking what specifically they hope to gain. The truth is that nothing we have done so far as a society has cracked the code on addressing carbon emissions in transportation, even as the case for doing so has become radically stronger. Rather than engage in a heated battle over the final phase of the Obama-era standards, the timing may be right to begin exploring alternative policies.