While the Trump White House has seemed willing to risk all kinds of chaos to erase any trace of the Obama years, the EPA’s decision Tuesday to reopen the midterm review of greenhouse-gas emissions standards is something different: a step that could bring some order to the relationship between the auto industry and government.
That relationship led to big strides in safety and environmental protection, and even kept the industry alive at times, but it was poisoned by the EPA’s hasty move to finalize greenhouse-gas standards in the waning days of the Obama administration.
As much as the Obama EPA tried to justify the decision on scientific grounds, the timing of it left little doubt about the underlying political calculations.
It’s fortunate that the industry’s representatives have enjoyed a seat at the table in the Trump White House, and that they’ll now have an opportunity to make their case with regard to the greenhouse-gas and fuel-economy programs. It will be up to them to communicate their concerns clearly, without abandoning their responsibilities or resorting to alternative facts.
To be clear, automakers aren’t denying the reality of human-caused climate change, or denying that they have a role to play in combating it. They shouldn’t start now.
Automakers -- which employ many of the world’s best scientists and engineers, after all -- are all on record as recognizing this as established science. What they’ve wanted out of this review is a fair hearing about the challenges they face and some flexibility on the timelines and targets. Those are reasonable things to ask for.
As long as the administration keeps working with California, too, to maintain the harmony between the state’s vehicle standards and national ones, the industry will get what it bargained for back in 2011: a predictable set of national standards based on achievable targets.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s refusal to acknowledge the abundant scientific evidence on climate change is troubling. But if he has the good sense to understand what the E and P stand for in the agency he runs (Note: It’s not part of the Commerce Department), he won’t try to spite Obama by completely derailing the movement toward better fuel economy, which has come remarkably far.
That would waste years of work by the industry’s best minds and throw automakers’ investment plans into chaos.
The effort to reduce fuel consumption is good for Americans. And just look around: It’s not destroying the auto industry. On the contrary, it’s driving innovation at an unprecedented pace and keeping U.S. automakers competitive with their peers, at home and in key overseas markets such as China. Both government and the industry have an interest in making sure that continues in a sustainable way.
The extended midterm review is an opportunity for both sides to commit to that goal. Let’s see if they can keep the discussion focused on science and progress, and not politics.