Will Trump’s Plan to Roll Back Fuel Economy Regulations Help American Autoworkers?
Retired General Motors employee Frank Hammer and Sierra Club’s Andrew Linhardt say that high efficiency standards lead to job creation while stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions from cars that contribute to climate change
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
The Trump administration on Wednesday, ordered a review of tough U.S. vehicle fuel efficiency standards put in place by the Obama administration. Handing a victory to auto industry executives, and provoking criticism from Democrats, and environmental groups.
Here’s what Trump had to say at an event Wednesday afternoon outside of Detroit, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, attended by auto industry executives and workers. In a setting that underscored his efforts to lock down support in industrial states, such as Michigan, that put him in the White House in the first place.
DONALD TRUMP: I’m sure you’ve all heard the big news that we’re going to work on the CAFE standards. So, you can make cars in America again. We’re going to help the companies, and they’re going to help you.
We’re setting up a task force in every federal agency, to identify and remove any regulation that undermines American auto production, and any other kind of production. Under this system we will reduce burdens on our companies, and on our businesses. But in exchange, companies must hire and grow in America.
They have to hire and grow in our country. That is how we will succeed and grow together, American workers, and American industry side-by-side.
KIM BROWN: The CAFE standards that he’s talking about, are the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which are the regulations first enacted by the United States Congress, back in 1975, after the Arab oil embargo of 1973,’74, to improve the average fuel economies of cars, and other vehicles that are produced here in America.
And with us to help unpack whether rolling back these regulations will help American auto workers, the American public, or just the car manufacturers, we are joined today by two guests: Frank Hammer and Andrew Linhardt.
Now, Frank is a retired General Motor’s employee, and former President and Chairman of Local 909 in Warren, Michigan. He now organizes with the Autoworkers Caravan, which is an association of both active, and retired autoworkers, who advocate for workers demands in Washington. He’s on the line from Detroit.
And Andrew Linhardt is an Associate Director for Federal Advocacy with the Sierra Club, where he served as a lobbyist with the Federal Policy Team. He works on issues ranging from domestic work on fuel economies and ethanol, to international issues, such as reforming IFIs and international trade, moving beyond coal.
So, gentlemen, thank you both for joining us.
BOTH: Thank you.
KIM BROWN: So Frank, let’s start with you. So, could the roll back on emissions regulations, actually lead to more American jobs in the auto industry?
FRANK HAMMER: Well, when I testified in 2012 to the EPA, about having jobs adjusted here in Detroit, it was very clear, the arguments for the new stiffer regulations were an increase in jobs. So, I don’t know how rolling them back will increase jobs, when in fact, the argument was just the other way around. Having the higher thresholds was a job creator.
KIM BROWN: Well, Frank, okay, let me ask the question a different way. Would rolling back these new standards, relatively new, put in place by the Obama administration, I guess maybe the question is, was it costly to auto manufactures to enact these better fuel efficiency standards put in place by Barack Obama?
FRANK HAMMER: Well, I think that the auto companies typically complain every time they’re required to make either their cars safer, or in this case safer for the environment, by having better fuel efficiencies, and they will complain bitterly how expensive if it is. But we have to realize that General Motors, especially coming out of the bankruptcy, has been making billions of dollars a year, and that’s with the introduction of the electric car, with higher efficiencies mandated by the Obama administration.
So, I don’t know that this isn’t just a red herring that behind all this, is oil companies that are very happy for their vehicles to not be fuel-efficient. And I think it’s red herring, I think it’s a way of not having to make the investments that are necessary to address the question, for example, of climate change by reducing greenhouse gases.
KIM BROWN: However, did American consumers feel any pinch of the purse, or of the wallet after these new fuel efficiency standards were enacted? Did the price of American produced cars actually go up, as a result?
FRANK HAMMER: Well, yeah, the prices in the vehicles have gone up and, for example on an SUV, the prices are quite high, because General Motors, for example, the company I used to work for, is making $10,000 on a vehicle. So, I don’t know how much that increase is due to the new technologies, or how much it is based on what the market will bear.
And they know that these vehicles, that are not climate friendly, are selling, and they’re making a hefty profit on them. So, they’re apparently able to absorb the cost, the standards are not as stringent on the SUVs that they are on standard vehicles. I think again that… It’s an argument of, “Oh, we want to make it cheaper for the consumer.” But I don’t think anybody really expects that the prices of vehicles will go down, if these standards are rolled back.
KIM BROWN: So, Andrew, I wanted to ask, I mean, the original impetus for the CAFE standards was the ’73, ’74 Arab oil embargo, to save on gas consumption by Americans. So, talk about how this has grown in importance from a climate change, as well as a public health, perspective.
ANDREW LINHARDT: Sure. So, as we all know, CO2 is the leading cause of climate change, and transportation has just recently overtaken the power sector in the United States as the highest emitter of carbon dioxide pollution. And so, we need to be able to work towards regulating the emissions coming out of that, which the Obama administration did. When they lined up with all the auto manufacturers in the Rose Garden, back in ’09, to agree to these new standards that would cut oil use, and CO2 emissions, while saving people money.
So, it’s really grown in importance, and that is why the EPA, before the Obama administration left office, decided that its technical review supported its decision to keep the standards as is, going through to ’22 through ’25 period. So, it’s grown in importance, and it’s important, needs to continue going forward in the future.
KIM BROWN: So, Andrew how much do American cars and other vehicles contribute to the total greenhouse gas emissions, globally?
ANDREW LINHARDT: It’s a significant amount. I don’t know the exact percentage right off the top of my head. But America is the historic polluter, when it comes to CO2, even though we’ve been passed by China more recently, on a yearly basis.
So, I have to go back and look at those numbers, but it is not a small amount. And the U.S. can lead the way in reducing these emissions, both here, and set an example for the world.
KIM BROWN: So, this next question is to you both, but Frank, you can take it first. So, talk about what happened under Obama Administration in terms of further reduction of emissions from vehicles.
So, how significant were the new regulations, or the regulations put into place by Barack Obama, and now with Donald Trump, pledging to rescind them?
FRANK HAMMER: I believe that the fuel efficiency has gone up to, on a streetwise level, I think 25 miles per gallon, up from, I think, 20. And by the way, I think I have a figure for the previous question. I think the estimation about the transportation sector is like anywhere between 20, 25% of greenhouse emissions. So, I think that gives you a sense of what that figure is.
So, there’s no question that the vehicles, produced by the big three, and others, have, in fact, become more efficient. And I should note that the standards in other countries are actually even higher than ours, in terms of fuel efficiency.
So, for us to attempt to roll those back, would be retrograde, compared to other countries in efficiencies that they’re establishing in their countries, for the cars that are sold in their markets.
KIM BROWN: Andrew, your thoughts on President Obama’s regulations on improving the fuel efficiency standards. Was it significant, insignificant, could he have done more?
ANDREW LINHARDT: Well, I think we would say that we could always do more. But, I don’t want to undersell how important the rules that the Obama Administration put in place on this. We’ve seen record growth in the auto manufacturer sales, while at the same time their entire fleets, in all their cars, are getting more and more efficient, and Americans are saving money at the pump.
So, it’s certainly not a small amount. I would say that in order to really tackle the global warming crisis that we’re going to face over the next several decades, we’re going to have to go even further. But certainly, what the Obama Administration did was an excellent first step going forward.
KIM BROWN: So, could, as Trump says, lessening the regulations on the emission lead automakers to produce more cars in the U.S.? So, who will win and who will lose, if these regulations get rolled back?
And is Donald Trump even making any sense on this issue? So, do improving or lessening regulations have anything to do with productivity coming out of the factories?
ANDREW LENIHART: Well, we would argue that increasing them has increased the workers, the amount of people employed, both directly by the manufacturers and then by the supply chains. The supply chains have done huge amounts of innovative growth in meeting these fuel standards. And they are hiring the people to work in those factories. So no, we don’t buy into this line that rolling them back will lead to any more jobs in the United States.
We need to be a leader in clean technology. More fuel efficient internal combustion cars, hybrids and electrics, make those here, make those in union… in union shops across the United States, and rolling these back are not going to lead to some sort of miracle job increase.
KIM BROWN: So, Frank, can you talk a little bit about that, about electric vehicles, and other trends? I mean, are these both in American worker, and the public’s interest to go in this direction?
FRANK HAMMER: Well, you know, as an autoworker, I share the same environment that everybody has else does. And we have to be very concerned about the increasing chaos in our weather. And it would seem to me that whether it’s autoworker or not, that we have to consider what are we doing to the planet, by virtue of using inefficient automobiles, in regards to the fuel consumption.
And the CO2 emissions that result, that impact on global warming, and then come back to us in the form of this wicked weather that we’ve been seeing all over the globe. And we just saw in New England, just the other day, we had all these records that continues to be broken, either too cold, or way too hot, and droughts, etcetera.
So, I think, as the conscientious workers look at the future, we have to promote electric. And that’s what’s being done, for example, in California. California is going to be a real challenge, because they have these waivers that enable them to go more efficient, and to produce electric vehicles, which everybody pretty much understands is going to be the future.
And you see companies like Tesla, that are leading this charge to electrify automobiles. So, I think that there’s other avenues that we have to approach about jobs. For example, our productivity as autoworkers has increased two, three, four fold. And we should be reaping the rewards of that with fewer hours’ work, and more workers on the line.
KIM BROWN: So gentlemen, to you both, what’s coming up next on this? Because on Wednesday the EPA sent out a press release saying that they would, “re-examine emission standards for cars and light-duty trucks, model years 2022 to 2025,” And that they are to be revisited.
So, the mid-term evaluation process, so talk about that, and what that could mean for fuel efficiency standards for newer cars going forward.
ANDREW LENNHART: I’ll jump in on that quickly. If they are honest in doing their mid-term review, and follow the technology, and what the data says, they will reach the same conclusion that the Obama Administration reached. And I would also point out that when the EPA, under President Obama, made this final decision back in January, the administrator said that there was certainly an argument that could be made that these standards could have been strengthened, according to the technical record.
So, we expect… I would hope that they would still reach the same conclusion, because that is what the numbers show. The technical assessment report was thorough, and the auto manufacturers had a ton of input into it. They were consulted, and the folks that did it are professional. They know what they’re doing, and they’re able to run the numbers, able to run the technical aspects of the engines that they examined, and the technology that exists in the market place now, and some guesses about what’s coming forward in the future.
So, I think that while we will monitor closely and be ready to fight if they weaken it, if they’re honest to what record shows, they should find that these standards should be continued on to ’22, through ’25 side.
KIM BROWN: Frank, your thoughts about that?
FRANK HAMMER: So, I think we have to contextualize that, that question, and the question of what they’re doing with EPA. And Trump has made it very clear, and Bannon, that they want to dismantle… regulations that have been put in place that are in the interests of the broad public. And want to go to totally unfettered, companies that can do whatever they want, to produce a maximum amount of profit, and so this is only one piece of that. And along with that, of course, is the whole question of climate change denial.
And so, this is all in keeping with that, and the companies of course, have just, you know, head over heels over Trump wanting to liberate them from making more fuel efficient cars, and letting them make greater profits, as well as the oil industry, of course.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, gentlemen, we certainly appreciate you taking the time to join us, Frank Hammer and Andrew Linhardt, we appreciate you guys speaking about this, and we will certainly be monitoring everything that the Trump administration does, as it pertains to climate change, or what they don’t do, as it pertains to climate change and the environment. So, gentlemen, we appreciate you both speaking with us today.
BOTH MEN: Thank you very much.
KIM BROWN: And thank you guys and everyone at home for watching The Real News Network.