Back in July, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report analyzing the effect of fuel economy standards on the environment. To be a bit more specific, it’s called the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Year 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks, and if you think that title is crazy long, the report itself is much longer – like 500 pages. You can read it if you want, but here’s the takeaway: rolling back fuel economy standards will have little effect on drastic climate change that’s already in motion, so why bother trying?
The Washington Post offers a critical look at the report, but for our purposes we’ll examine at a couple key points within the NHTSA’s assessment. Throughout the report, the Trump Administration makes the assumption that global temperatures will rise by approximately 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. Such a rise could have a profound effect on climate, not to mention a significant rise in sea level that would put many coastal cities around the world underwater without costly infrastructure modifications to literally stem the tide. For the record, the Permian Extinction – the largest mass-extinction event in the history of the planet where 95 percent of all life died – saw the global temperature rise by 9 degrees Celsius.
Based on that rather depressing news, the experts at the NHTSA crunched more numbers that extrapolated several scenarios for our future with and without the aforementioned fuel economy rollbacks. The conclusion? Higher fuel economy standards would help the situation, but the difference might be so small that implementing tougher regulations simply isn't worth the effort. You can see this specific section of the report here.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard this kind of logic from the Trump Administration. A couple months ago we learned of documents that argued against raising fuel economy standards because people would drive more often, which could lead to more vehicle deaths. Some might say the NHTSA’s assessment this time around is the equivalent to letting a kitchen fire burn an entire house down, simply because the fire has already started. If, however, the numbers are accurate, the difference such standards might make would indeed very small in the grand scheme.