Saturday, July 13, 2024

How trump’s latest anti-sustainability policy hurts innovation in the auto sector


As California battles with the Trump administration over regulating fuel standards, uncertain automakers are stuck in the middle.

California has typically been a leader among-st the states with regards to environmental policies, and under the Trump presidency this has been no exception. In fact, the state has already seen clashes with the federal government on these topics, such as when they and other states pledged to follow the Paris Agreement when Trump decided to pull out of it. Now under attack is California’s unique ability to set fuel emissions standards higher than the rest of the country, in place for 48 years under the federal Clean Air Act.

Previously, the national standard was that cars had to reach 35 miles per gallon (about 15 km/l) by 2020; however, in 2012, an Obama policy replaced that with a stricter requirement that cars reach 50 miles per gallon (about 21 km/l) by 2025. As California was on board with this criterion, automakers rejoiced in the ease of having one national standard for all of its vehicles produced.

However, as the Trump administration rejects climate change as a “hoax invented by the Chinese,” their policies tend to reverse efforts towards sustainability and instead reward polluting and outdated energy sources like fossil fuels. In this particular case, they want to rollback the Obama guidelines to the 35 miles per gallon level and remove the clause of the Clean Air Act giving California permission to set its own emission standards. California has the largest auto market in the country with nearly 35.4 million registered vehicles in the state (with a population of 39.5 million people); if California maintains the Obama-era regulation, automakers will essentially have to produce all of their vehicles according to that state’s standard. Trump, of course, does not want this to happen.

This potential change of course hurts both the auto industry and consumers. In the short term, automakers are unable to set up manufacturing plans since they don’t know what the new regulations will be. In the long run, Trump’s bias against sustainability prevents innovation in the transportation sector.

Consumers want to drive cars with higher miles per gallon because it helps both the environment and their pockets. Higher miles per gallon means less trips to the gas station and, under the Obama policy, would have reduced oil consumption by 12 billion barrels and saved consumers up to $5,700 in gasoline costs over a vehicle’s lifetime. Consumers are also increasingly keen on purchasing goods with positive societal impacts; recent research has shown that 87% of Americans said they would purchase a product because of a company’s alignment on an issue they cared about. In essence, if the auto industry innovates to improve and expand fuel-efficient vehicles and vehicles run on renewable energy, they will be able to attract more customers while helping to mitigate climate change.

Furthermore, while Trump tends to promote deregulation with arguments about economic growth, the truth is that the future of economic growth is in fields like renewable energy. In fact, the top 5 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. energy sector are all related to sustainability, with one of them being clean car engineer.

To start with, the Trump administration needs to acknowledge the reality of climate change. Beyond that, though, national policy must recognize that consumers and businesses alike understand the new American economy to be a sustainable one. In the meantime, California should have the authority to enact policies in line with this vision in the absence of federal leadership.

Dr. Edward Mungai
Dr. Edward Mungai
The writer, Dr. Edward Mungai, is a global sustainability expert. He is the Lead Consultant and Partner at Impact Africa Consulting Ltd (IACL), a leading sustainability and strategy advisory in Africa. He is also the Chief Editor at Africa Sustainability Matters. He can be contacted via

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