‘That sounds dumb.’ Motor City weighs in on rollbacks

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2018

DETROIT — The Trump administration has argued that scaling back Obama-era clean car rules will help consumers across the country. But here in Motor City, the rollback is far from people’s minds.

On the eve of a public hearing on the clean car rules, downtown Detroit yesterday evening was obscured by a gray fog. Passersby shuffled along the sidewalk amid a light drizzle, heading home from work.

When asked about the car rules, Detroit resident Elayne Elliott said she had “vaguely” heard of them.

“I don’t know exactly what they are,” Elliott said as she took shelter from the rain inside a Starbucks on the corner of Woodward Avenue, a main thoroughfare. “It relates to emissions, right?”

Jada Smith, a Starbucks employee, said she hadn’t heard of the rules. When given more information about the rollback, she exclaimed, “That sounds crazy! That sounds dumb. Why do we want more pollution?”

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month outlined a series of options for the car rules. The administration’s preferred option was freezing fuel economy targets at 2020 levels through 2026, rather than increasing their stringency each year as President Obama had envisioned.

The Trump administration has argued that the preferred option will increase safety on the nation’s roads and lower costs for consumers. An EPA fact sheet says it would have a negligible effect on the environment. But environmental groups have warned that it would ratchet up air pollution, related illnesses and premature deaths.

Just off Woodward Avenue yesterday evening, Lindsay Farris was entering a grocery store. She said she opposes the rollback because of its environmental consequences.

“I think we’ve reached the point where we shouldn’t be making decisions in favor of business over the environment,” said Farris, a web designer who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Michigan was a key swing state in the election, with President Trump carrying 47.3 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 47 percent, despite a stronger blue showing in Detroit.

Inside the store, several shoppers said they hadn’t heard of the rollback before declining to be interviewed. Isabelle Bradbury, a Canadian developer, said she hadn’t heard of the car rules but generally opposes Trump’s policies.

“Quite frankly, I’m not happy with what he is up to,” said Bradbury, who owns several properties in Detroit.

Erin Ura, a manager at the store, said the rollback is a “terrible idea” for consumers. “Compounded with the number of other rollbacks he’s made with regard to environmental issues, it’s just too much,” she said.

Detroit has a rich history as an epicenter of the nation’s auto industry. It was here that Henry Ford pioneered the moving assembly line, introducing the Model T to the masses. Three major automakers — Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV — have all called the city home.

Today, Ford has relocated to more modern headquarters: a 12-story, glass-faced office building in Dearborn. The company’s Highland Park plant — the birthplace of the moving assembly line — remains shuttered. The National Park Service lists the building as “in disrepair and not open to the public.”

Outside the Highland Park plant yesterday, all was quiet. A light rain continued to fall on an empty street.

But today promises to be loud — quite literally.

Public interest groups plan to hold a press conference before the public hearing on the cars proposal, where they say they’ll display 300 ringing alarm clocks as a symbolic “wake-up call” for Ford. They’re focusing on Ford after CEO Jim Hackett said last week that the company is “in favor of keeping the standard, not a rollback” (Greenwire, Sept. 21).

“With an installation of several hundred vintage-style alarm clocks, the coalition will sound the alarm that it’s time for Ford to stand with American families and dump the Trump rollback,” Public Citizen and the Sierra Club said in a joint press release.

Luke Tonachel, director of the Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project with the Natural Resources Defense Council, is also scheduled to testify at today’s hearing. He, too, doesn’t intend to be quiet.

“The proposal will stop future progress just at the time that we should be accelerating efforts to reduce pollution from transportation, which is the nation’s top emitter,” Tonachel plans to say, according to a copy of his testimony obtained by E&E News.

“When faced with the harms that this proposal will cause, it’s only natural to ask how it could be justified. The simple answer is that it can’t,” Tonachel will say. “It defies years of research demonstrating that the existing standards are technically and economically achievable. They should be kept in place.”

John German, a senior fellow with the International Council on Clean Transportation, also plans to testify that the proposal would undermine U.S. automakers’ global competitiveness after Fiat Chrysler and GM filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, prompting an $80 billion bailout from the federal government.

“The proposal would put us back into the cycle that occurred from the mid-1980s to early 2000s when frozen vehicle efficiency standards caused U.S. vehicle technology to stagnate, making domestic manufacturers uncompetitive and contributing to the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler just nine years ago,” German plans to say. “How quickly we forget.”