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EPA chief pens oped about prioritizing saving automakers from spending ‘$200 billion’ over protecting the environment

Today, Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency appointed by President Donald Trump, penned a new opinion piece published in USA Today. In the piece, he seemed more worried about making sure U.S. automakers don’t have to invest $200 billion in electric vehicles and more efficient cars than the impact on the environment.

The EPA’s mission is a difficult one, but it has the benefit of being clear and simple: “to protect human health and the environment.”

Yet, the new chief made it clear that he is more concerned about the financial health of the auto industry than the actual health of the American public.

Take a look at how long it took for him to reference his mission, which again is to protect the environment:

“Auto manufacturing continues to be one of the driving forces in the American economy, accounting for 3% of our GDP. Forty-five states have 10,000 or more auto jobs. Automakers and their suppliers employ more than 3.5 million Americans. The American people clearly want it to stay that way.

President Trump promised to fight to keep auto manufacturing jobs here in the United States, and he has asked his entire Cabinet to help.

Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and I, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, took steps to help.  We have announced that we will revisit the previous administration’s rule that finalized standards to increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025.

EPA will work with our partners at DOT to take a fresh look. This thorough review will help ensure that this national program is good for consumers and good for the environment.

While nothing says that the EPA shouldn’t take economic impacts into consideration when implementing new regulations to ensure public health and environment protection, it takes an unprecedented part of Pruitt’s consideration.

Here he expresses his concerns over the investments the auto industry will have to make in order to sell more efficient vehicles:

“The auto industry estimates that it would need to spend $200 billion to comply. That type of expense would lead to higher prices for consumers, lower wages for workers and jobs moving out of the country. The National Center for Policy Analysis says these standards have pushed manufacturing and jobs to Mexico.”

First off, as previously reported, that $200 billion figure is dubious to start with but anyway, that’s $15 billion a year split among dozens of car manufacturers and thousands of suppliers in a trillion-dollar industry.

Secondly, the link between the emission standards and jobs going to Mexico that Pruitt is referencing has only been made by the National Center for Policy Analysis, which is a “think tank” financed in part by the Koch brothers.

Furthermore, the money would be spent on changing their production assets, including in the US, to produce electric vehicles instead of gas-powered cars. That’s a transition that other automakers, like Tesla and several German automakers, and several industry analysts see as inevitable. If they are right, then U.S. automakers will have to make those investments at some point anyway.

Surprisingly, Pruitt also acknowledges that economic growth can go hand-in-hand with the EPA’s work to reduce emissions:

“Improved technology has made the United States the world leader in clean air quality. From 1970 to 2015, aggregate national emissions of the six common pollutants dropped an average of 70% while gross domestic product grew by 246%. We have achieved this reduction during a time when more Americans were driving more cars, more miles. That is remarkable and shows American ingenuity is simply the best.”

What is less clear is why he thinks that reopening the emission standards now would lead to a positive change in the trend. The recent gas price drop in the last few years as led to a surge in SUV and truck sales, which is working against the fleet fuel consumption average. Now more than ever automakers need to be encouraged to make those vehicles more efficient.

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