Brittany Patterson Published

Charleston Leaders, Public Health Advocates Raise Impacts Of Clean Car Rule Rollback On W.Va.

Gasoline, Gas, Fuel, Diesel

Leaders in West Virginia’s capital city are drawing attention to the local health and economic effects of the Trump administration’s rollback of federal fuel-efficiency rules.

In late March, in the midst of the first surge of coronavirus cases in the U.S., the federal Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finalized a two-part rollback of the Obama-era clean car standards. Known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, it requires automakers to increase the fuel economy of passenger cars by 1.5 percent each year.

The previous standards set by President Obama in 2012 mandated a 5 percent annual increase in fuel economy.

“The [sic] standards provide numerous benefits to Charleston families, including reducing air pollution in our city and saving families money at the pump,” said Charleston City Council member Chuck Overstreet. “The last thing that we need to be doing during this public health and economic crisis is gutting standards that protect our health and put more money back into the pockets of the folks across our community.”

Speakers at Thursday’s virtual press conference noted the high rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases among West Virginians.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018, West Virginia was tied with Maine for having the highest percent of residents with the chronic disease, at 12.3 percent.

Cabell, Kanawha, Ohio and Wood counties had four or more days with unhealthy ozone levels, according to the American Lung Association’s 2019 annual report. Ozone is a powerful lung irritant that can exacerbate asthma attacks and make it hard for people with lung diseases, like COPD, to breathe. The Lung Association gave those counties a “c” letter grade.

Del. Mike Pushkin, a Democrat who represents Kanawha County, also noted the clean car rule rollback hurts West Virginians’ pocketbooks, at a time when thousands of residents are out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The one who gets hurt the most … it’s the consumer at the pump,” he said. “Our working families there will have to pay more to gas up their cars.”

Under the 2012 rule, automakers were to produce vehicles that would average about 47 miles per gallon by 2025. Cars under the new proposal will average 37 miles per gallon. Greenhouse gas emissions are also expected to rise by nearly a billion tons. 

EPA officials said the new rule “strikes the right regulatory balance for the environment, the auto industry, the economy, safety and American families.”

The speakers, which also included Charleston City Councilmember Robert Sheets and Robin Blakeman with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, encouraged concerned residents to reach out to members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation.

The rule is being challenged in court by more than 20 states and environmental groups.