Oil is once again front and center — and reminding us just how dangerous our addiction to it is for our national security and economy. A Saudi Arabian oil field gets attacked, disrupting global oil supplies, and President Donald Trump declares us “locked and loaded” and ready to respond. Later in the week, his administration announces it will destroy California’s ability to set strong independent state-level vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards under the Clean Air Act — standards that are projected to save nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2030, around as much oil as the United States imports from OPEC countries every day. As the coauthor of the fuel economy standards in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, I know that this is an illegal attack that goes against the express intent of Congress and has only one beneficiary: Big Oil.
Trump’s unprecedented move to revoke fuel economy standards will result in years of courtroom challenges, years of uncertainty for American automakers, and our continued dependence on foreign oil.
And it will directly affect us here in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth is one of the 13 states, along with the District of Columbia and Canada, which have used authority under the Clean Air Act to adopt California’s strong state-level tailpipe emissions standards. The Trump administration’s attack is not just an attack on California but on all 150 million people in North America who currently benefit from these stronger standards, which bring us cleaner air, better health, lower gasoline bills, and stronger national security.
In 2011, state leaders worked together with the Obama administration, 13 automakers, and an international auto industry group to agree to a unified set of standards that would increase fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards. This deal meant that automakers would not have to worry about dealing with a national patchwork of regulations, where some states might follow the stronger California standards and others might use the federal standards.
But President Trump wants to tear that historic agreement to shreds. The result will be years of courtroom challenges. When the George W. Bush administration tried a similar gambit, they lost in the courts — twice. Legal experts believe that will happen again because the authority of the Clean Air Act of 1970, and congressional intent is clear.
We know the current fuel economy emissions standards are technically feasible, economically achievable, and absolutely necessary for the climate. In fact, automakers are meeting the standards even faster than expected. And that is saving American consumers money at the pump.
That’s why four auto companies — Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW — have already made a deal with California, pledging to continue to meet strong vehicle fuel economy emission standards. But President Trump would rather cut into automakers’ sales than cut a deal with them and the states to cut pollution.
So if revoking these standards is bad for drivers, bad for business, bad for workers, and bad for the planet, who is it good for? This upheaval in California is just a vindictive, oil-soaked attack by the Trump administration on standards that are critical to addressing the climate crisis. It will leave the auto industry spinning its wheels and its domestic workers in jeopardy. And will continue America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East, making it susceptible to the kinds of volatility that comes with unrest in the region.
The Trump administration is now squarely set on a courtroom collision course with California, Massachusetts, and the rest of the states that follow these standards. But chaos and delay is what the oil industry wants, and President Trump is happy to take the wheel and drive us down this path of destruction. The big losers will be American automakers, consumers, and our young men and women in uniform who could be put in harm’s way just to protect oil coming from one of the most dangerous places in the world. For the sake of our people and the planet, President Trump should put the brakes on and take us out of reverse on these life-saving standards.
Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts is chair of the Senate Climate Change Task Force and Senate author of the Green New Deal resolution.