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The Signal: In the middle of a pandemic that is particularly lethal to those with impaired lung function, the Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. The move will trigger a long legal fight, led by California, and signed onto by many other states; but if it ultimately stands, environmentalists estimate that it will lead to a billion metric tons of additional carbon dioxide emissions, and the burning of an addition 80 billion gallons of gasoline.
In short, while Trump touts this move as an economic boon and counts it as a success in his battle against regulations, it’s guaranteed to further wreck the planet’s fragile climate and further pollute its already polluted air.
A reasonable administration would have pressed the pause button during a respiratory virus pandemic. This administration saw the chaos and fear created by a wave of illness and death as a useful distraction to push through an unpopular regulatory change while attention was diverted.
Pardon my French here, but WTF?
That’s as crazy as bringing construction crews into southern Arizona from all over the country to extend the border wall. This, despite the fact that in many states construction work is being pared back to slow the spread of Covid-19, and despite the fact that rural Arizona is already posting high infection numbers. Why let a little thing like the worst pandemic in a century stop work on Trump’s signature monument to xenophobia? As a result of this decision, thousands of workers are crowding into Arizona motels, and, when those are full, living many workers to a room in rented houses.
It’s as crazy as, say, refusing to reopen the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchange, so that millions of suddenly unemployed workers and their families will have the means to get tested and treated for coronavirus. This despite the fact that the insurance companies themselves have been begging the administration to make it easier for people to enroll.
The only good news regarding the fuel efficiency rollback—which goes far beyond what even the most retrograde car companies have been asking for—is that it may backfire. Last year, four large companies (BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen) sided with California in endorsing stricter standards. Many more companies sided with the Trump administration—not because they wanted to eviscerate those standards but because they favored one national benchmark rather than two competing systems. However, after the administration announced the scale of its rollback, some companies appeared ready to join California’s camp. On a conference call with journalists after the rollback was announced, Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, reported that Volvo was about to cast its lot with the four resisting companies, and that at least one other vehicle manufacturer was considering doing so. Nichols believes this could be a watershed moment, the last hurrah of “an old view” and the moment when private companies and consumers join together to promote a cleaner, more efficient economy.
I hope Nichols is right. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of distracting Noise coming out of DC. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell had the gall to blame the impeachment process for Trump’s failure to respond aggressively to the pandemic threat back in January and February, when he was downplaying the severity of the crisis. And California GOP Representative Devin Nunes again showed his contempt for science by criticizing the closure of schools in his state. That strategy didn’t turn out so well for Virginia’s Liberty University when Jerry Falwell Jr. brought back to campus his students, who promptly suffered a Covid-19 outbreak.
One can only imagine what H.L. Mencken would have said of such charlatans and know-nothing opportunists, who care not a whit for the toll their malignant ignorance is taking.