Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler, in one of his first television interviews, championed the Trump administration’s widely criticized efforts to roll back Obama-era auto fuel efficiency and emissions standards.
In an interview with the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, Wheeler said the EPA believes that freezing auto standards for five years “will save over 1,000 lives a year.” The acting administrator also claimed the American consumer will save $500 billion over the course of the regulation.
Recent research, however, has found that strengthening auto fuel efficiency and emissions standards can actually improve road safety and save lives, media watchdog group Media Matters for America noted in a Monday blog post.
Experts also have highlighted the fact that the current standards the Trump administration is seeking to roll back are projected to save consumers $1.7 trillion in fuel costs.
Wheeler’s interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn, former senior adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, is a “must-run” segment. All of the conservative media company’s 100 local TV news stations are required to broadcast the interview with Wheeler, according to Media Matters.
Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared on the same Sinclair Broadcast Group show — “Bottom Line with Boris” — where Pruitt said, “Well, look, I care so much about taxpayer money.” Pruitt was making the rounds on conservative media to help defend the many spending and ethics controversies surrounding his management of the EPA.
On August 2, the Trump administration formally proposed to freeze federal fuel economy standards at 2020 levels, an initiative that is expected to raise costs for consumers and drastically increase pollution levels. Under the plan, the administration also said it will revoke a waiver that allowed California to set its own fuel mileage and emissions standards.
EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler (right) sits down for an interview with the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group. The interview was released on August 13, 2018. CREDIT: Screenshot/Media Matters for America
At the end of the brief interview with Wheeler, where the acting administrator was required to answer only softball questions, Epshteyn gave the Trump administration’s plan his seal of approval. “Here’s the bottom line: the EPA’s proposed freeze on emissions standards is a commonsense solution to a complex problem. It will both save billions of dollars and, more importantly, save lives,” Epshteyn told viewers.
During the interview, Epshteyn opted against asking Wheeler about studies demonstrating that more fuel-efficient automobile do not lead to more fatalities.
A paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2017 found that making cars with improved fuel efficiency is likely to reduce the number of fatalities. One way for automakers to reduce the amount of gasoline that cars consume per mile is to reduce the weight of the automobile. Lighter vehicles, according to the EPA’s argument, offer less protection to the people inside the car or truck in collisions or other types of accidents with impact.
However, that’s not what the National Bureau of Economic Research found in its research. In fact, a reduction in the overall average weight of vehicles may actually result in fewer fatalities as a result of car crashes, according to the bureau’s paper.
The researchers conducted simulations of crashes from 1989 through 2005 that suggested 171 to 439 fewer fatalities occurred each year with corporate average fuel economy standards in place than without them.
The National Research Council, in a 2015 report, analyzed fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards in the automotive sector and found that tighter standards, such as the ones implemented by the Obama administration, were unlikely to lead to safety problems.
“Manufacturers are likely to make cars lighter in their efforts to improve fuel economy,” the National Academy of Sciences said in a press release about the National Research Council study. “The most current studies support the argument that making vehicles lighter, while keeping their footprints constant, will have a beneficial effect on safety for society as a whole, especially if the greatest weight reductions come from the heaviest vehicles.”
Government corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards are set for cars and light trucks based on the size of their “footprint” — their length and width of the vehicle.
Since the Model T began rolling off the assembly line in 1913, automobiles have gradually become safer and safer. Since 1975, the fatality rate has fallen drastically, from 3.35 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled to 1.18 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled in 2015.
“Yes, newer cars are safer. But efficiency has been advancing in tandem with safety and average fuel economy reached a record high this year. Americans are driving farther than ever, but the fatality rate has fallen drastically over the past four decades,” Vox’s Umair Irfan explained in a post about the administration’s rollback plan.