The Trump administration has announced new plans to weaken environmental rules that could place the Trudeau government in a climate change bind.
The announcement by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt, that proposes to weaken tailpipe pollution standards on new cars, delivers another Trump-era shock to Canada, which has worked for years with the United States to align transportation emissions standards.
Pruitt — who has said climate change could benefit humans, despite overwhelming scientific evidence it will lead to massive loss of life — announced Monday that the rules restricting carbon pollution from vehicles, a major cause of the planet's warming, are "not appropriate" and “should be revised."
The existing standards were initially developed by the former Harper government in Canada, in partnership with the Obama administration, following a push from California and Quebec.
The Trudeau government later reaffirmed those regulations in 2016, but may now be left on its own if it wishes to proceed.
“The Obama administration's determination was wrong,” Pruitt is quoted as stating, in an attack on the former operation of his own agency. “Obama’s EPA...set the standards too high.”
Canada may be forced to pick between following weaker U.S.-wide rules, and stronger rules in places like California, which has been given a waiver to impose stricter standards. Pruitt said Monday he was going to examine that waiver.
“Co-operative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” he stated, according to the press release.
“EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars," he continued.
"It is in America's best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard.”
The chair of California’s clean air agency shot back, calling Pruitt’s move a “politically-motivated effort to weaken clean vehicle standards with no documentation, evidence or law to back up that decision.”
“This is not a technical assessment, it is a move to demolish the nation’s clean car program,” said Mary D. Nichols of the California Air Resources Board in a press release.
“EPA’s action, if implemented, will worsen people’s health with degraded air quality and undermine regulatory certainty for automakers.”
Cutting transportation emissions is a major element of the Trudeau government’s plan to reduce its carbon pollution and meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement.
Transport is the second-largest carbon pollution sector in Canada, at 173 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015, and emissions rose 36 per cent since 1990, accounting for a significant portion of emissions growth.
In 2014, Canada amended its regulations explicitly “in collaboration” with the EPA, in order to put in place progressively stricter standards from 2017 to 2025. In 2016, the two countries committed to “ensure further acceleration of the improvement of vehicle efficiency.”
U.S. environmentalists and scientists have accused Pruitt of gutting the EPA and cancelling important efforts to crack down on carbon pollution because he disputes scientific evidence that shows how much human activity is contributing to climate change.
The Trudeau government was also forced to deploy a "multi-pronged" lobbying effort against the Trump administration in 2017 to counter other cuts at the EPA which threatened Canada's energy efficiency policies by scaling back funding to the ENERGY STAR program, created to encourage lower energy consumption and greener jobs.
Meanwhile, Pruitt has been embroiled in an expenses scandal, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds for a trip to Italy, including a security detail alone that cost over $30,000. He has been facing mounting calls to resign over this and other revelations in the news.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told the Globe and Mail that reducing gasoline consumption is key to lowering emissions over the next 12 years ahead of Canada’s 2030 Paris Agreement target.
“Improving the fuel efficiency of our vehicles cuts pollution and saves drivers money,” spokeswoman Caroline Thériault told the newspaper.
“We are paying close attention to the U.S. mid-term review of vehicle fuel-efficiency standards...any decisions regarding vehicle regulatory changes will be informed by our own midterm evaluation and by careful considerations of environmental and economic impacts.”
McKenna also told CTV Question Period on Sunday that "I don't have time for politicians that pretend that climate change isn’t real."
The U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists says stricter fuel efficiency standards will actually save U.S drivers $50 billion USD by 2030. It has calculated that 2017–2025 fuel efficiency and emissions standards will save an average buyer $6,000 for a 2025 vehicle over its lifetime.
“Vehicle efficiency standards keep vehicles affordable. Though increasing vehicle efficiency comes at a modest cost, the cost of the most affordable vehicles has remained effectively constant over the past decade even though today’s vehicles are more efficient and cheaper to drive,” it states on its website.