What Trump did and didn't say in Detroit on EPA emission rules

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump

One of the challenges of today's uber-polarized political environment is that fear and alarmism increasingly overtake the factual realities of an issue.

This appears to be the case with President Donald Trump's Wednesday appearance in Detroit to announce the reopening of the comment period for EPA emission rules for vehicles in model years 2022 through 2025.

To judge from a spate of statements and releases from various environmental organizations that followed, you might think that the president had single-handedly ended all fuel-economy rules for new cars.

He didn't.

DON'T MISS: EPA to reopen emission-rule review; how important is this step?

Trump appeared with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, and many other auto-industry executives at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

As The New York Times noted, the president said nothing about gasoline costs or climate change in his speech. Instead, he told carmakers to open new U.S. plants and import fewer cars from outside the country in exchange for his action in reducing the EPA's regulatory "burdens."

During his speech, the president made several questionable statements, as is his wont.

He said, for instance, that his government would end the "assault" on the auto industry. He did not add that two of the three Detroit automakers had been rescued from bankruptcy just eight years earlier by his predecessor's administration.

President Barack Obama looks at 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car at Detroit Auto Show, Jan 2016

President Barack Obama looks at 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car at Detroit Auto Show, Jan 2016

Trump also claimed credit for jobs added by GM, which announced plans to rehire 680 laid-off workers at a transmission plant and add 220 new jobs in Michigan. (The president also called that number of jobs "peanuts," however.)

A GM spokesperson declined to credit Trump for those jobs, saying that the company hadn't fundamentally changed any of its manufacturing plans. Fiat Chrysler responded the same way to an earlier Trump claim for jobs that company had added.

In a restructuring earlier this year of its assembly operations, GM said it would open or retain 1,500 jobs as part of a $1 billion investment strategy.

Separately, it eliminated 3,300 jobs at several locations across the Midwest.

CHECK OUT: What White House faces if it actually tries to roll back fuel-economy standards

Trump's main announcement was that the Environmental Protection Agency would reopen a comment period on the 2022 through 2025 emission limits. The agency had ended that period 15 months ahead of schedule by finalizing its rules in January, just before he was inaugurated.

The decision to finalize those limits, he said, “would have destroyed, or further destroyed, the auto industry"—which, for the record, has just come off a second year of record vehicle sales in the U.S.

Trump's action was requested, many times, by virtually every carmaker selling in the U.S. and their lobbying arm, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

It will give the automakers a chance to submit further evidence for the EPA to assess on the change in the mix of vehicles purchased by U.S. buyers since the regulations were drafted in 2012: more and larger trucks, fewer fuel-efficient and smaller passenger cars.

2018 Ford F-150

2018 Ford F-150

More trucks, fewer cars

The industry claims it will not be able to meet the original standards given those changes, especially as sales of hybrid and plug-in electric cars remain minimal as a percentage of the overall total, at 3 to 4 percent.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne called the EPA's short-circuiting of the original schedule, which had stretched into 2018, "offensive" during a Bloomberg TV interview.

The carmakers' submissions will add to those already provided and cited in the agency's Technical Assessment Report, issued last summer.

The assessment concluded that automakers had met the first set of emission standards, for 2012 through 2017, at a lower cost than projected and using less electrification and more conventional technologies.

That trend would continue into the future, the EPA's analysts and scientists concluded, so the 2022-2025 emission limits did not need to be changed from those drafted in 2012.

Chrome exhaust pipe

Chrome exhaust pipe

Trump's action in reopening the comment period was widely misreported as covering fuel-economy standards, which are separately set by the NHTSA, a unit of the Department of Transportation—which is why Chao was there.

She noted that the two agencies would work together to set what she called "reasonable" standards for fuel economy and emissions.

Jobs expected in return

But Trump's action on the comment period came with an explicit quid pro quo to automakers:

“You need to come back and give us big numbers in terms of jobs,” Trump told the chief executive officers of General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV on Wednesday.

As a result of his action, automakers are "going to be building new plants, expanding their plants," he expounded.

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