Here’s What Trump’s Latest Cabinet Pick Means For Federal Fuel Mandates

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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President-elect Donald Trump will reportedly pick former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to head the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, headed up the Department of Labor under former President George W. Bush, and energy insiders predict her appointment means an end to using the department to fight global warming.

“It means that the war on the internal combustion engine will, mercifully, be over,” Mike McKenna, a Republican strategist, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“It means that right order will be reinstated on things like the federal mandates on car buyers,” said McKenna, who recently left Trump’s transition team, referring to federal fuel efficiency standards.

President Barack Obama used the Transportation Department to mandate cars built in 2025 get 54.5 miles per gallon as a way to wean the U.S. off foreign oil and fight global warming through cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported in November that automakers beat fuel efficiency standards in new cars, but at the same time automakers are asking the incoming Trump administration to reconsider the 54.5 miles per gallon standard. EPA and DOT jointly administer federal fuel economy standards.

“Well-meaning regulatory actions risks increasing compliance costs to the point that additional safety and fuel-efficiency technologies put new vehicles out of financial reach for the average new car purchaser,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers wrote in a recent letter to Trump’s transition team.

The Obama administration finalized its 54.5 miles per gallon standard when gas prices were high, but the hydraulic fracturing boom helped cut prices at the pump from more than $3.85 per gallon to just over $2.15 a gallon today.

Americans aren’t as willing to spend more money upfront to buy a more fuel efficient vehicle, according to automakers. The average car price has risen $6,900 since Obama took office.

Trump has proposed spending $1 trillion on infrastructure over the next 10 years to fix what he calls “crumbling roads and bridges” across the country. With a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, McKenna says Chao will likely help Trump craft and implement a highway bill.

“And it means we have a fighting chance of getting a highway bill, instead of a bike lane bill masquerading as a highway bill,” McKenna said.

Chao, however, does have her critics.

Environmentalists oppose Chao on the ground she won’t take global warming seriously enough.

“Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change will require a radical reshaping of our transportation system to move us away from fossil fuels,” Benjamin Schreiber, the climate and energy program leader at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement.

“The U.S. urgently needs a secretary of transportation who will lead this transition,” Schreiber said. “As secretary of labor, Chao dismantled critical mine safety regulations and showed that she values fossil fuel profits above all else.”

“She is the wrong choice to lead the transition to a green energy economy that will provide lasting jobs and protect the planet,” he said.

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