What Does Trump's Car Emission Rollback Mean For Connecticut?

Aug 3, 2018

On Thursday the Trump administration introduced a proposal to roll back auto emission and fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles, which were put in place by President Barack Obama.

In her latest article in The Connecticut Mirror, environmental journalist Jan Ellen Spiegel says few states would feel the consequences of this policy change more than Connecticut.

Spiegel recently spoke with WSHU's All Things Considered Host Bill Buchner to learn more.

Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Could you start by telling us what is going to change with the Trump proposal?

What they’re trying to do is take levels for two different things, for automobile and light truck tailpipe emissions and for fuel efficiency standards, that’s the miles per gallon stuff, and cap them at the 2020 levels that were set by the Obama administration just before it left office. 

What they set were levels that would run from 2020 to 2026 with mileage getting tighter and emissions getting lower. And that mileage that was getting tighter would go up to around 50 miles per gallon from the roughly 37 miles per gallon that’s there now. So that miles per gallon would stay at about 37.

So why are these current emission standards good for Connecticut?

Connecticut is at the end of the tailpipe for the U.S. We get a lot of emissions from Midwestern power plants. We get a lot of cars coming through. The winds, the way they work in the U.S., pretty much end up in Connecticut’s back door.

While this region, Connecticut and New England and much of the Northeast, have really cut out most of their most polluting power plants, there’s not a lot left to cut in the electric sector. So really the big difference that it would make for Connecticut is to have some means to lower the emissions and the greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

So one has to wonder why does the Trump sdministration want to freeze the current standards?

Well, that’s a political question. There are those who say it is doing the bidding of the oil companies. The auto companies were not especially thrilled with the Obama sdministration’s tighter standards, but from what I’ve understood, they certainly didn’t want this particular set of standards. This is too much for them.

And if the Trump administration’s proposal does become law then how will this impact Connecticut? What is the scenario?

The scenario is actually something we haven’t discussed yet and that’s something known as the California Waiver. Going back to 1970, in the early days of the Clean Air Act, the state of California was granted a waiver to put in stricter auto emission standards, the stuff that came out of your tailpipe. Those emissions now also include greenhouse gases. States were allowed to either pick the California Waiver or go with the federal standards. Connecticut chooses the waiver levels, along with about a dozen other states. Those are tighter. If California has the waiver rescinded, then Connecticut would no longer be able to use tighter standards if it so chose.

Here’s the thing though. Right now as we sit here, the California Waiver standards and the federal standards are basically the same. That was something put in place in the Obama administration to essential save car companies from having to make two different models of cars.

If the waiver is successfully rescinded, and that’s a big legal if right now, there’s going to be a lawsuit. Attorneys General from about 20 states are already prepping for that. No president has ever rescinded a waiver once it was granted. So we’re completely on legal new ground here. We don’t know what’s going to happen.