Federal Data Supports A Key Justification For Rolling Back Obama-Era Climate Rules

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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  • Trump officials claimed strict fuel economy rules would encourage people to use older cars.
  • Data suggests this is correct and that people are driving cars longer.
  • Federal officials said rolling back Obama-era rules would save 12,000 lives.

Federal data seems to support a key claim the Trump administration made to justify rolling back Obama-era global warming regulations on new cars and trucks.

The Trump administration said its proposal to freeze fuel economy regulations on cars and trucks would keep more than 12,000 people from dying in automobile accidents. Officials argued Obama-era regulations made cars more expensive, thus encouraging drivers to hang onto older vehicles.

U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that Americans have, in fact, been holding onto older vehicles and buying fewer new cars. In fact, it’s a trend that’s been going on for a while.

“The average vehicle age has increased from 9.3 years in 2009 to 10.5 years in 2017, suggesting that many households have delayed the purchase of a new vehicle and continuing a trend of U.S. households operating vehicles longer,” EIA reported Tuesday.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled plans to rollback Obama administration auto regulations imposed in 2012, requiring new cars average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

NHTSA and EPA claimed Obama-era fuel economy regulations would raise the cost of a new car by $2,340, putting new cars further out of reach for the average American family. As a result, freezing fuel economy regulations at 2021 levels would save 1,000 lives per year.

New vehicles are safer, according to a recent NHTSA study, meaning holding onto older cars could increase the amount of fatalities in automobile accidents as EPA argues.

“More realistic standards will promote a healthy economy by bringing newer, safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles to U.S. roads and we look forward to receiving input from the public,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

However, environmentalists and some auto experts challenged the claim that Americans were holding onto older, less safe vehicles.

Resources for the Future senior fellow Joshua Linn admitted there was “some evidence” showing consumers held onto older vehicles longer, but said “percentage-point increase in standards resulted in a 0.2% drop in new vehicle demand,” E&E News reported.

Likewise, Carla Bailo, president for the Center for Automotive Research, told E&E News “the concerns about slower fleet turnover are unjustified.” Bailo also said auto companies make more fuel-efficient cars every year to meet fuel economy rules in other countries. (RELATED:AU REVOIR! Trump To Dismantle The Key Pillar Of Obama’s Paris Climate Accord Plans)

EPA officials in the agency’s transportation office also challenged the fuel economy rollbacks, according to recently released documents. EPA officials said their modeling showed “safety outcomes that show the proposed standards are detrimental to safety.”

However, EIA found the number of Americans holding onto older cars has grown, meaning future fuel economy and safety could be a bigger issue than critics let on.

EIA found “the average age of in-use cars increased, in absolute terms, from 9.5 years in 2009 to 10.3 years in 2017,” adding the “slowing of vehicle turnover has implications for transportation fuel consumption, because newer vehicles tend to have better fuel economies.”

The Energy Department’s statistics arm also noted that people across income groups were hoarding older vehicles. In fact, the “average age of vehicles used by higher-income households has increased more than those used by lower-income households,” EIA found.

“Overall, the aging of the vehicle fleet suggests many households have delayed purchasing a new vehicle or have instead purchased a used vehicle,” EIA reported, adding that “spending on vehicle repair and maintenance has also increased in recent years.”

However, EIA did note that fuel efficiency has increased despite people hanging onto older cars and trucks. EIA said this is because “fuel economy has continued to increase because of technology advances adopted across all vehicle types of new light-duty vehicles.”

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