Maine is one of a dozen states that have adopted California’s tougher vehicle emissions standards, which could be eliminated under an EPA proposal announced Thursday.
by Kevin Miller, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
Environmental and health groups in Maine decried a Trump administration plan announced Thursday to undermine states’ ability to set tougher vehicle emissions standards and to freeze fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.
Attorneys general from more than a dozen states – including Maine Attorney General Janet Mills – also are vowing to fight the changes in court.
Maine is one of a dozen states that have adopted California’s stricter emissions requirements for new cars and trucks. But proposed rules announced Thursday by the Trump administration seek to eliminate California’s ability to set its own standards while also rolling back planned fuel-efficiency requirements by freezing standards at 2020 levels for six years.
Organizations in Maine quickly criticized the long-anticipated proposals, which the Trump administration contends would lower the costs of new cars and, in turn, save lives by encouraging drivers to buy newer vehicles.
“Rolling back the clean car standards will make our air more polluted and will force drivers into dirtier, less-efficient vehicles that are more expensive to drive,” Beth Ahearn, political director for Maine Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “Not content to stop there, Trump and his dirty deputies also want to attack states’ longstanding authority to limit dangerous tailpipe pollution.”
Under the 2012 Obama administration rules now targeted by Trump, car manufacturers were required to nearly double the fuel efficiency of passenger cars – to a fleetwide average of about 54 miles per gallon – by 2025. The Trump plan would freeze the planned increases and revoke waivers granted to California to impose stricter limits on emissions, including the first-ever regulations on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are delivering on President Trump’s promise to the American public that his administration would address and fix the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards,” Acting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. “Our proposal aims to strike the right regulatory balance based on the most recent information and create a 50-state solution that will enable more Americans to afford newer, safer vehicles that pollute less.”
Within hours, Maine’s attorney general was pledging to work with her counterparts in California and other states to challenge the changes.
“Attorney General Mills is committed to fighting this backward-looking decision to rollback some of the nation’s most important emission standards,” Mills spokesman Tim Feeley said. “Maine will be joining California and other states to file suit against the EPA to overturn this action and ensure it is never implemented.”
UNDOING 20 YEARS OF STATE REGULATION
California adopted stricter vehicle emissions standards more than 20 years ago as a way to address severe smog in Los Angeles and other urban areas. Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York followed suit in the late-1990s, with dealers in Maine required to sell California-compliant “ultra-low emission vehicles” starting in 2001.
Maine has since adopted subsequent changes to California’s standards, including limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
Because of its location on the eastern seaboard, Maine is on the receiving end of air pollution generated in more populous and industrialized states to the south and in the Midwest. Yet Maine’s size and rural nature – combined with residents’ preference for less fuel-efficient pickup trucks and SUVs – means in-state vehicle emissions are the single largest source of air pollution, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
DEP spokesman Karl Wilkins said Thursday that “the department is following the matter, but we have no comment at this time” on the proposed changes.
Tom Brown with the Maine Automobile Dealers Association said the proposed freeze on fuel efficiency will ease some of the pressure on manufacturers that were warning about price hikes and untested technology as they tried to achieve an average of 54 miles per gallon.
“When you’re talking about nearly doubling in five or six years the standard that has been relatively static … they would be very hard-pressed to get to that number,” Brown said. In addition, car manufacturers and, by extension, dealers are simply selling what customers want. So while California built aggressive mandates for sales of hybrid and electric vehicles into its regulations, meeting those expectations has been difficult in California and even more challenging in a state like Maine, Brown said.
“It probably also eases the potential penalties on manufacturers because the public, with the current gas prices, has shown a preference for SUVs and light-duty pickup trucks,” Brown said.
BAD FOR HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT?
Health and environmental groups had been anticipating the news.
“Let’s be clear: this proposal doesn’t just attack federal standards, it threatens states’ right to set pollution limits to protect their residents’ health,” said Lance Boucher, public policy director for the American Lung Association of Maine. “Here in Maine, we have opted-in to California’s more protective standards. This state authority is an essential part of the balance of power to preserve and protect Mainers today and in the future.”
The Natural Resources Council of Maine said the changes will result in more harmful pollutants drifting into Maine – which already has among the nation’s highest asthma rates – and “adds insult to injury by also eliminating states’ rights to set our own clean car standards.”
“Maine wants cleaner cars nationwide because upwind pollution matters so much to us, so we’ve done our part by using the best clean car standards available,” Emmie Theberge, federal project director at NRCM, said in a statement. “This proposed rollback puts all that at risk.”
According to the Reuters news agency, California and the other states that have adopted the stricter standards account for one-third of the U.S. auto sales market.
At least one car dealer in Maine, Adam Lee of Lee Auto Malls, predicted the changes will be “bad for business” at a time when manufacturers and dealers are selling more cars than ever, despite the Obama administration requirements.
“The world is moving to cleaner, more efficient vehicles. You don’t have to care about clean air to see that reversing on fuel efficiency would put our automakers out of step with a global market,” Lee, who is active on environmental issues, said in a statement. “Do you think Honda, Nissan and Toyota are planning to make cars that are less efficient? When did America start to believe that losing our competitive edge was a good thing?”
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation also criticized the proposed changes.
“The administration’s plan is bad for consumers, bad for our environment, bad for the health of Maine people – it’s just plain bad,” said Sen. Angus King, an independent. “We should be encouraging innovative solutions to make us a more sustainable and efficient nation; instead, this proposal would move us backward.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, called the proposal “an assault on our wallets and our lungs” and characterized it as a handout to the oil industry.
“Last time I checked, Mainers actually liked spending less money at the gas pump because their vehicles are more efficient,” Pingree said. “This proposal does nothing but take money from their pockets and use it to pad oil company profits. It would not only cost our economy billions of dollars in lost savings, but weaken one of our best strategies for reducing the greenhouse gases that drive climate change and a long list of respiratory health issues.”
Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said the proposal is a step “in the wrong direction.”
“I have long supported efforts to improve fuel efficiency for new automobiles, which saves consumers money at the pump and reduces harmful auto emissions that are a major contributor to climate change,” Collins said in a statement. “Automakers have already made significant investments in cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles due to these standards. The administration’s proposal today moves us in the wrong direction.”
Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, said: “Maine is downwind from areas with some of the heaviest traffic in the world and we must think carefully about changes to emissions regulations that could impact our state. While affordability and safety are important, that does not mean we can’t keep moving toward improving our air quality in a smart way.”