To undo the damage of Trump rollbacks, Biden needs to set car standards stronger than Obama’s

(ACEEE blog, 26 Jul 2021) The Biden administration can soon undo the damage of President Trump’s clean car rollback, but only by setting more stringent standards to make up for lost progress. In the face of recent climate change-related extreme heat and flooding events, the administration can’t afford to lose this opportunity when it proposes new standards, due this month.

We modeled the impact of several options. We found that, at a minimum, Biden would need to ramp up to a fleetwide standard of 55 miles per gallon-equivalent (mpg) or 161 grams per mile (gpm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by the 2026 model year to undo the damage of the less-efficient models being sold now because of the Trump rollback.  

Anything less ambitious would bring several more years of needlessly inefficient vehicles, locking in 15 years or more of extra greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If the administration set standards that simply reached the same fleetwide average as the Obama standards by 2026, it would recover only two-thirds of the emissions reductions possible under the Obama program. Achieving the President’s climate goal of a 50-52% reduction in overall emissions by 2030 almost certainly requires stronger action.  

Obama vs. Trump Standards 

The Obama administration’s standards, set in 2012, required approximately 4.7% annual growth in efficiency for model years (MY) 2021 to 2025, reaching 47 mpg-equivalent or 190 gpm (this is below the originally announced figure of 54.5 mpg largely due to a larger than expected share of vehicles sold being light trucks rather than cars). However, the Trump administration undid these standards with the Safe Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) rule, which requires only 1.5% annual growth. ACEEE’s analysis found that the SAFE rule would mean losing almost 80% of the lifetime emissions reductions for MYs 2021-2026 compared to the Obama standards. Some of this damage is already done: The MY 2021 and 2022 cars are here. At stake now are the standards for the 2023-2026 model years.  

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ACEEE blog, 26 Jul 2021: To undo the damage of Trump rollbacks, Biden needs to set car standards stronger than Obama’s