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Senator Praises Obama Fuel Economy Standards for Forcing Automakers to Innovate

WASHINGTON – A group of Senate Democrats is warning the Trump administration not to roll back the fuel economy standards that were set under the Obama administration.

The Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and light trucks at an average of 36 miles a gallon by the model year 2025 after originally proposing 54.5 miles per gallon. The auto industry has been pushing for a reduction in the fuel economy standards and the Trump administration will reportedly announce changes soon.

“These laws are what has unleashed the Elon Musk revolution – all of these companies being forced to now invest in new technology. They always said it was difficult to do, which is why they did not improve the standards for decades but once the law passed they found ways to be able to achieve that. We’re not talking about rocket science. We’re talking about auto mechanics,” Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said on a conference call with other Democratic senators on Tuesday.

Markey called the Obama-era CAFE standards the “largest step” America has ever taken to reduce carbon pollution, adding that the “benefits far outweigh the costs” for consumers.

“Those standards will reduce our carbon pollution by 5 to 6 billion tons over the course of the program, but Donald Trump is waging a war on the environment and he wants EPA Administrator Pruitt to make strong fuel economy emissions standards his newest victim,” he said. “We cannot let him.”

Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) said the federal government has a “responsibility to encourage people to buy these energy efficient cars.”

“We don’t want them just to sit on the sales lot, you know, going un-purchased. We want to make sure people are buying them,” he said. “We need to use less oil from OPEC, so this is sort of a win-win – so at the end of the day, our auto companies continue to make money and that’s important too and we think they can.”

Carper said federal environmental policies are able to yield clean air and job creation at the same time.

“We believe it’s a false choice to say that we have to choose between one or the other,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said rolling back the Obama-era standards would be “bad” for the environment, the economy and the middle class so Trump should keep them in place.

“It could add nearly 6 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere by 2050. We don’t have the time to fall on our face in reducing carbon dioxide and this certainly would be a major stumble,” he said.

Merkley said the Obama fuel economy levels are “feasible” for automakers to meet.

“It would be a huge mistake to throw them out,” he said.

PJM asked the senators on the call if it is worth keeping the current fuel economy standards in place if they result in more expensive vehicles for consumers, as some industry groups have predicted would occur. In response, Markey told PJM the Obama-era fuel economy standards are keeping gasoline costs low for consumers.

“The EPA analysis shows consumers benefit in any scenario of gas prices over the life of these vehicles, so I don’t think there’s any question the net benefit for consumers is $100 billion and the benefits far outweigh the costs even if fuel prices are low,” Markey replied.

Dan Becker, the director of the Safe Climate Campaign, agreed with Markey’s assessment.

“The technology that saves gas costs less than the gas it saves. And so consumers will pay a little bit more for the vehicle, but will more than make up for it at the gas pump. And if you lease your vehicle, as UCS studies have shown, you start saving money the minute you drive off the lot,” he said on the call.

“If you pay cash for it up front you have to recover that a little bit, but not as many do that anymore. So the bottom line is this is a winner for the American people because the savings at the pump more than pay for the technology that saves the gas,” he added.

Markey said the EPA fuel economy standards have made the auto industry more competitive than ever before.

“The auto industry is crying crocodile tears about their inability to meet these standards,” the senator said. “It has nothing to do with their ability to meet these standards. They can meet them. They know they can meet them.”