Vehicle emission regulations, established and developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation during the Obama administration, could be modified following President Donald Trump’s order to review the EPA’s midterm evaluation.
Submitted in 2016, prior to the midterm’s 2018 deadline, the evaluation analyzed the automotive industry’s ability to meet EPA regulations for passenger vehicles made from 2022 to 2025 in the U.S.
Review of the evaluation could lead to new standards for these vehicles, which could result in lower fuel-efficiency requirements and higher greenhouse gas emissions. Diesel vehicles, however, may benefit.
The Potential Effects of a Rollback
EPA regulation rollbacks would impact both the automotive industry and the environment.
Automakers sell to countries worldwide and adhere to a variety of increasing standards for lower emission rates and higher fuel economy. In the U.S. alone, fourteen states follow emission standards set by the California Air Resources Board. Independent from the EPA, the California Air Resources Board would not be impacted by EPA rollbacks.
Carmakers, as a result, would need to develop vehicles for a segmented market, in both the U.S. and abroad to meet emissions regulations. While automakers could research, develop and manufacture vehicles for each specific market, it would likely be more cost-effective and efficient to build vehicles that adhere to the strictest standards and sell them across all markets.
EPA budget cuts, however, could cost the automotive industry. Each year, the EPA tests and certifies the emission rates of new vehicles. After certification, the vehicles can then be sold to consumers. Reduced regulations won’t omit this process, but the impending EPA budget and job cuts will lengthen testing times. Adjustments to the EPA budget will also lead to automakers paying for these mandated tests. How much the EPA will charge car manufacturers is still to be determined.
Most alarmingly, decreased regulations could lead to a complete lapse in improving emission rates in diesel vehicles, which already struggle to pass EPA tests. Transportation is second in greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., with passenger vehicles contributing more greenhouse gases than industrial diesel equipment that powers trains, ships, and construction equipment.
While industrial equipment emits more greenhouse gases than gas engines, they still have developed technology to reduce their emissions. For example, to meet EPA standards, CAT developed its Tier 4, with the goal to emit 90% less particulate matter and nitrogen oxides compared to Tier 3. Returning to previous engines would not only increase the equipment’s emissions, it would also make the equipment less fuel efficient.
Overall, adjustments to the EPA’s regulations for 2022 to 2025 vehicles are predicted to increase pollution during those vehicles’ lifetimes by 540 billion tons in the U.S. So what do the automakers think of this?
The Automotive Industry’s Response to a Rollback
Automakers, as well as their suppliers, have largely been in favor of a potential rollback.
Lobbying groups, such as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in support of reviewing the EPA’s midterm evaluation and reducing regulations. The Alliance, which represents companies such as Toyota, Ford Motor Co. and several other prominent car manufacturers, cited the 2022 to 2025 standards as difficult and costly to achieve. Many, however, have also already achieved 2020 standards, while certain hybrid vehicles, like the Toyota Prius, already meet 2025 standards.
Consumer buying habits also influence the lobbying groups’ support of a rollback. Decreased fuel prices have encouraged Americans to purchase larger vehicles, such as trucks or SUVs, versus more fuel-efficient vehicles. Ensuring these vehicles would meet 2025 standards would demand the research and development of new technology. Higher-priced SUVs and trucks would result, as automakers work to recoup the cost of developing the technology.
The industry, however, is united in its desire for consistent and predictable standards. Since the EPA enacted its regulations in 2012, automakers have invested extensively in technologies to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. It’s likely that many would would continue to invest in the technology to meet the regulations of other countries.
Movements by other regions, such as Europe and India, in reducing the impact of vehicles on the environment could serve as an incentive for the industry to continue developing fuel-efficient, or even green vehicles, to consumers.
Decreased regulations, however, will undoubtedly benefit diesel vehicles, and could potentially lead to a resurgence for certain manufacturers and their diesel models, such as Volkswagen.
Ultimately, as revealed by automobile industry lobbyists, consumers influence the industry’s vehicle lineup and development hierarchy. It’s with this hope that consumers will increasingly demand and purchase fuel-efficient, hybrid, or electric vehicles. With the right amount of purchasing power, we could persuade the industry to focus on environmentally friendly vehicles and keep diesel emissions at a minimum.