Shannon Q. Elliott Thursday, June 11, 2020

In 2012, President Obama made historic changes to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards. The intention was to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse emissions caused by roadway traffic. By the year 2025, cars and light duty trucks would have an average of 54.5mpg which would nearly double the fuel efficiency of vehicles. Not only did this revision aim to save consumers upward of $1.7 trillion dollars at the gas pump, cutting emissions meant less exposure to toxins for communities. President Barack Obama’s commitment to protecting the environment, and his environmental legacy, have been challenged, and overturned by the Trump Administration, who recently revoked the changes to CAFE and implemented the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficiency Vehicle Rule (SAFE) which, in lament terms, rips the rug from underneath CAFE and regresses any environmental progress made by the United States.

The Trump Administration rule replaces the Obama -era mandate that automobile makers were required to improve their fuel economy performance by 5% annually. The new rule only requires that vehicles have to improve their performance by 1.5% a year. SAFE standards are implemented to save lives, create jobs, and maker safer, more affordable cars for American families. It’s estimated that an additional 78 billion gallons of fuel will be utilized under the new rule, making fossil fuel companies and their shareholders the primary beneficiaries of SAFE. Experts are also predicting the rule will omit 900 million more tons of carbon-dioxide into the air, a casualty incurred by less environmentally friendly vehicles on the road.

On May 27th, The Environmental Defense Fund, Moms Clean Air Force, and The Sierra Club, , in conjunction with California and 22 other states including the District of Columbia, filled suit against what is being deemed the “UN-SAFE” Rule. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, leads the multi-state lawsuit, stating that the Trump Administration is inflating and misrepresenting what the rule does.

The complaint filed with the D.C Circuit Court of Appeals argues that the decision to weaken auto industry fuel emissions, is a direct threat to public health, and is based on flawed research. The ambient levels of air toxins will lead to cardiovascular, neurological, and respiratory disease. As a nation we will see a rise in asthma, premature death, immune system damage and countless illnesses associated with the obscene amount of pollution attributed to fuel inefficiency. They argue that the Trump Administration’s vow to shift away from environmental protections enacted to protect public health and produce greener vehicles is not only irresponsible, but their reasoning is based on inflated research and alleged falsified documents. 


SAFE undermines the Clean Air Act of 1970, which established air quality standards for the United States, and granted California the right to set their own pace for stricter air quality control. The totality of the circumstances suggests that SAFE is grossly negligent, putting American lives at risk. A recent win for environmentalists, relevant for the SAFE case,  came about in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The complaint stemmed from concerned organizations who petitioned that the county was in violation of injecting treated sewage into groundwater and navigable waters. This threatened the health of their community and the Pacific Ocean. The win heightened awareness that complex environmental issues, are being reviewed and taken seriously by the courts.

The judiciary will need to weigh the interests of the government and public safety to determine which carries more weight. The verdict issued in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, could be a contributing factor in how the SCOTUS interprets the SAFE Rule, and its strengths and weaknesses. It’s without a doubt that the court will hear excellent arguments authored by some of the country’s finest attorneys, and may have to answer some of the following questions in order to reach a decision; 1.) Did the Trump Administration violate federal law, and falsify documents to support their research? 2.) Is the SAFE Rule in the best interest of the American people? 3.) Is it at the states discretion to set their own stricter law for tailpipe emissions?

The growth of the economy and protection of the environment are two different goals. The current administration has expressed their denial when it comes to climate change and environmental protections. The childlike outbursts, retaliation, and mocking of those who are rightfully concerned are a frequent occurrence… by our President. COVID-19 has strengthened the voice of communities who have been ravished by illness. The momentum behind sensitivity of respiratory disease, may prove to dismantle the Trump Administration’s efforts regarding the SAFE rule.

Learn More

Resistance Resources (n.d.). Environmental Defense Fund :

  • Addressing today’s most urgent environmental challenges EDF targets issues that effect people globally. Focusing on a clean economy, resilience and results EDF works to reduce exposure to pollutants and advocate for the health of humanity (n.d.). Moms Clean Air Force:

  • Mom’s Clean Airforce works on air pollution, toxic chemicals, climate change and national campigns that align with the greater good for the environment. Current campaigns include “Wheeler must go” and “ Clean Car Standards”


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