Meeting with automakers in January, Donald Trump vowed to make Detroit's life easier. He said regulations on the auto industry are "out of control" and that his administration would create an "extremely hospitable" environment for making and selling cars in this country.
Many observers took this to mean that Trump will soon roll back energy efficiency standards put in place by his predecessor. For light-duty vehicles, these are due to reach 39.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2017 and climb to 54.3 mpg by 2025.
If so, the effect on consumers and greenhouse emissions could be dramatic. Assuming people drive relatively the same amount, cars will use more fuel, meaning more spending at the pump, and more pollution into the atmosphere.
According to a model created by Energy Innovation, a San Francisco research firm, a freeze at the current mpg level will cost consumers $64 billion through 2030, and $282 billion by 2040. By 2050, all that extra fuel would add $475 billion to household budgets, or about $1,500 for every American, it says.
"It depends on the price of gas, where you live, and other factors. But at the end of the day, if these standards weakened, this is a lot of money that will be lost for American consumers," says Robbie Orvis, who devised the simulator used to make calculations, in an interview. The simulator uses data from the Energy Information Administration and Energy Innovation's methods are used by several governments worldwide, including China's.
In terms of additional greenhouse gasses, keeping the standards at their current level will mean 247 million additional tons of CO2 by 2025, 893 million cumulative tons by 2030, and 5.7 billion more tons by 2050, Orvis says. That's nearly what the entire U.S. currently produces in a single year (6.6 billion tons).
Rolling back the regulations might benefit the automakers in the short term because they don't have to invest in more efficient technology. But it could harm their ability to sell into markets with stricter standards, like the EU, Orvis says. The big beneficiaries could be oil companies that can sell more fuel. The one hope may be that states have their own standards and California's are particularly stringent. Because California makes up such a large percentage of the overall car market, car makers may have to keep up high fuel standards to keep selling cars there.
In November, the Environmental Protection Agency said carmakers can meet the 2025 standards using currently available technology. And Orvis agrees. "I think it's a totally reasonable standard that can be met and it's in line with other standards around the world, like Europe's."