We didn't know last week when California and 16 other states might file a lawsuit against the EPA over President Trump's decision to roll back emissions rules, but it seemed pretty clear that it would happen soon.
Our Twitter-poll subject for last week still managed to address the topic directly from the viewpoint of our readers: We noted that the EPA had announced its plans to roll back emissions standards that require cars to get higher mileage from 2022-2025. Then we asked our Twitter followers what level they thought was most appropriate.
The EPA has announced that it plans to roll back emissions standards that require vehicles to get higher mileage from 2022-2025. What level do you think is most appropriate?— Green Car Reports (@GreenCarReports) April 23, 2018
More than half—54 percent—responded that standards should be set even higher than the current levels of 54.5 mpg mandated by 2025. (After credits and adjustments, this amounts to about 39.4 mpg in measured fuel economy on the road for most drivers.)
Another 35 percent of respondents thought fuel economy standards should be left alone. (In a misprint, we queried that as 59.4 mpg, rather than 54.5, but we think the difference would have little effect on the outcome of the poll.)
Just under a tenth—9 percent—thought the standards should be rolled back to the 35 mpg minimum set by Congress. It's worth noting that when Congress set that minimum, in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, it stipulated that the regulators could set any higher standards they deemed technically feasible.
Only 2 percent thought that the standards should be set at less than 35 mpg, or, presumably, eliminated altogether.
We should also note that the EPA does not directly set fuel economy standards. Statute stipulates that that responsibility falls to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the DOT's highway safety regulator. However, since a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that classified the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as a pollutant, the EPA has been required to regulate its emissions. And since there's no way to scrub CO2 from an engine's exhaust, this effectively gives the EPA joint control over fuel economy through its emissions regulations.
Since we published our poll, a memo has leaked from the Trump Administration, recommending that the President freeze fuel economy at 42 mpg (about 30 in real-world driving) through 2026. Lots of cars already on the road achieve that easily.
A bone of contention for automakers and other critics of higher fuel economy is that increases in future years will require more plug-in and hybrid versions of trucks and big SUVs, which would represent another level of investment from automakers, and another shift in thinking from consumers.
Remember, as always, that our Twitter polls are not statistically valid, because they lack a representative sample size, and because the respondents are self-selected from among our readership. Still, we always love to hear what you think.