Scott County officials, environmentalists blast rollback in car standards

By: - July 23, 2020 1:06 pm

A Highway Helper assists motorists along Interstate Highway 235 in Des Moines. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Department of Transportation)

President Donald Trump’s rollback of the nation’s clean car programs is costing Iowa lives and jobs, Scott County political leaders and environmentalists said Thursday.

“Before the Trump administration rolled them back, the clean car standards were an effective tool to combat climate change, reduce air pollution, protect public health and also save drivers money at the pump,” said Iowa state Rep. Monica Kurth, who represents the Davenport area and organized the Zoom panel sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation. 

Monica Kurth is a Democratic state representative representing Davenport. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Legislature)

Kurth said Trump initially blocked the states from limiting vehicle emissions more than the federal government, then relaxed Clean Air Act standards during the COVID-19 pandemic. The move was part of a broader change in environmental policies under Trump, prompting court challenges.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that the changes were expected to save 1,000 lives a year by encouraging Americans to buy new, cheaper and safer cars, while saving the automotive industry $253 billion in regulatory costs through 2029.

As the Trump administration finalized the rollbacks at the end of March, trade groups representing major automakers said the president may have gone too far, encouraging long court battles that will leave the industry in limbo, the New York Times reported. Some automakers had called for more modest rollbacks.

“The auto industry has consistently called for year-over-year increases in fuel efficiency,” said John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, according to the Times. “We need a policy environment that drives improvements in fuel economy, and the infrastructure that supports a transformation to net-zero emissions.”

Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken said the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that clean car technologies could create more than 7,000 jobs in Iowa. That’s important in Scott County, where unemployment is 9.8% and has been in double digits, Croken added.

Ken Croken is a member of the Scott County Board of Supervisors. (Photo courtesy of Scott County)

Rolling back the vehicle emissions standards discourages the development of efficient vehicles that have saved Quad Cities families $2,000 a year, Croken said. That money could help the economy, including farming, which has been harmed as international markets dwindled, he added. 

Judith Lee, a member of the Davenport City Council and a former U.S. Forest Service biologist, said the Trump administration is “flatlining this decades-long, badly needed progress made by clean car standards.”

Last year, Ford and Honda Motor Co. took California’s side in its fight to limit emissions, Forbes reported. General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp. joined Trump in support of rollbacks.

Rick Theilen, owner of Theilen Auto Sales in Clear Lake and president of the Iowa Independent Automobile Dealers Association, said the Obama-era goals for fuel efficiency appeared to be unreachable for manufacturers and a financial pitfall for dealers. “They were too strict,” Theilen said. “It was almost impossible to make it work.”

Theilen said the regulations can test dealers’ relationships with customers, who often blame the person selling the car for ultimate prices. “We don’t get to control any of that,” Theilen said of efficiency standards and related federal laws.

Meanwhile, a major health debate rages.

Judith Lee is a member of the Davenport City Council. (Photo courtesy of city of Davenport)

The American Lung Association reports that burning fossil fuels causes most of the small particles damaging Americans’ lungs. Nationally, 34,000 premature deaths a year could be prevented with even a modest decrease in emissions, the nonprofit estimated.

The lung association most recently gave Scott County a “C” for ozone pollution. Polk County got a “B,” and Linn County a “C.”

Dr. Maureen McCue, president of the Iowa chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said weakening the emissions limits during the coronavirus pandemic and as climate change poses new threats “is particularly dangerous and makes no sense.”

Tyler Granger, Iowa field representative for the National Wildlife Federation said the toxic vehicles emissions also harm wildlife, habitat for pollinators crucial to crops and other plants, and can hurt reproduction among birds and other species.


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