On Monday, the Trump Administration announced that it will be eliminating air pollution control standards for cars and trucks imposed six years ago that would have required a doubling in the fuel efficiency of vehicles by 2025.
This could mean larger gas-guzzlers on our roads. The President’s rationale for this and other recent regulatory rollbacks is his claim that environmental rules hurt the economy.
“Let’s cut the red tape,” President Trump said. “Let’s set free our dreams, and yes, let’s make America great again. And one of the ways we’re going to do that is by getting rid of a lot of unnecessary regulation.”
This argument clashes with the historical record, which shows that auto makers enjoyed record-setting sales in 2016 and 2015 even under tighter fuel-efficiency standards imposed by the Obama Administration in 2012.
Moreover, the Trump Administration recently contradicted the Trump Administration on the value of environmental regulations. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in February released a report that said environmental regulations, between 2006 and 2016, imposed a cost on the American economy of as much as $65 billion. But the report conceded that these rules also had a benefit to the economy of as much as $706 billion -- meaning that the benefits of environmental regulation outweighed the costs more than 10 fold.
Economist Wayne Gray of Clark University explained that much of these benefits are from a reduction in air pollution, which means fewer Americans dying prematurely from heart attacks, asthma and lung disease.
“When it comes to saving lives,” Gray said, “then that’s worth something, in terms of spending some money.”
Richard Morgenstern is a former director of EPA’s Office of Policy Analysis and also an economist. He issued a caution: in the fine print of the new Trump Administration report is language suggesting that the administration will start refusing to accept key scientific studies used to estimate the value of saved lives.
Because of these changes, in next year’s report, the value of environmental regulations will likely be lower, Morgenstern suggested, not because their impact on human health is lower, but because the Trump Administration is quietly tweaking the accounting methods. The administration is proposing to exclude any medical studies whose private data about individual patients are not made publicly available to corporate attorneys suing to challenge the regulations, Morgenstern said.
“It appears as if the Trump Administration is going to introduce some new methods of calculating benefits, and potentially costs, which will have the effect of lowering the benefits, and raising the costs,” Morgenstern said. “So essentially, they are changing the math as much as they are changing the regulations.”
James Boyce is an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He said that, in the end, economics studies – no matter what they say – will likely have little impact on the Trump Administration or Congressional Republicans pushing for deregulation, even though they claim they are working to boost the economy.
“Opponents of environmental regulation – what really is uppermost in their minds is an antipathy to the government telling people, including telling corporations, what they ought to do,” Boyce said. “At bottom it’s literally an anti-state ideology. It’s anti state interference in the rights of private individuals and corporations and firms to decide for themselves what they want to do.”
So whether it’s vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, air pollution regulations, or climate policies, in the final accounting, it’s not a matter of dollars and cents, or jobs, or even saved lives. It’s about ideology Trumping reality.