A federal rollback of clean car standards? Why some Utah leaders say no

Tougher standards would cut pollution, save lives

Haze hangs over the Salt Lake Valley on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Haze hangs over the Salt Lake Valley on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
 Kristin Murphy

SALT LAKE CITY — Two of the leaders of the Utah Legislature’s bipartisan Clean Air Caucus said the Trump administration’s plan to roll back clean car standards set under the previous administration will be costly for Utah households on three fronts: more unhealthy air pollution, less savings at the pump and job losses.

In a press conference Wednesday at the state Capitol, Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, and Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, called on Utah’s congressional delegation and other elected leaders to urge retention of the toughest fuel economy standards in U.S. history.

“It is the wrong direction for Utah,” according to Harrison, who as a practicing anesthesiologist said she has had to cancel procedures due to a patient’s unhealthy status because of asthma complications.

While she has seen patients who have beat radiation, chemotherapy and even cancer, she’s seen those who “can’t beat air pollution.”

Both Harrison and Handy were joined by Ben Abbott, an assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at Brigham Young University, and Tammie Bostick, executive director of the Utah Clean Cities Coalition, in a plea to keep the standards in place.

The 2012 rule finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightens emissions standards by 3.5% each year into 2025 and sets a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon in passenger fuel economy standards by 2025.

Not all vehicles would have to meet that fuel efficiency standard. Instead, automobile manufacturers could sell under performing cars and make up for that with models that outperform that standard.

The EPA is now proposing to freeze the fuel efficiency standard at 2020 levels in a submission it made to the White House in August, keeping it at 37 miles per gallon for passenger cars and light trucks for models 2021 through 2026.

In a revision most likely to provoke a lawsuit from California and other opponents, the Trump administration also wants to strip that state’s ability to set its own standards.

The EPA, in an analysis by Car and Driver, conceded its revised proposal would result in a 5% increase in carbon dioxide emissions through 2026 and 9% increase in carbon dioxide emissions through 2035, but just a 1% increase in smog-forming emissions during the same time period.

Ben Abbott, assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at BYU, speaks during a press conference in opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rollback of America’s clean car standards at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Ben Abbott, assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at BYU, speaks during a press conference in opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rollback of America’s clean car standards at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
 Kristin Murphy

Abbott said there is “no safe level” of pollution, pointing to recent research that shows air pollution in Utah results in more deaths than vehicle accidents.

While there are smog alerts for “sensitive” groups, Abbott insisted when it comes to pollution, “there is no such thing as an insensitive group.”

Bostick said to roll back the Obama standards is “unthinkable” especially for a state like Utah that has invested millions in clean air technology and research to curb its problem.

She added the Obama-era standards would have pumped an additional 4,700 jobs into Utah through advancements in automotive technology and other related industries.

The Trump administration said rolling back the clean car standard would save money for consumers and the industry, but 17 automobile manufacturers urged the administration to rethink its position and settle on something more “in the middle” between the two proposals.