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Trump rollback of mileage standards guts climate change push

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration’s rollback of mileage standards Tuesday marks a win for Americans who like their SUVs and pickup trucks, but the government’s own estimates show big costs, too — more Americans dying from air pollution, more climate-damaging tailpipe exhaust and more expense for drivers at the gas pumps.

The administration’s final rule relaxes future mileage standards for years to come, gutting tougher Obama-era standards that were the U.S. government’s single most forceful initiative against climate-changing fossil fuel emissions.

“Great news! American families will now be able to buy safer, more affordable, and environmentally friendly cars with our new SAFE VEHICLES RULE,” President Donald Trump declared in a tweet. “Get rid of those old, unsafe clunkers. Build better and safer American cars and create American jobs. Buy American!”

But Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups condemn the rollback, and years of legal battles are expected, including from California and other states opposed to the rollback.

The rollback drew rare public criticism from former President Barack Obama, who largely has remained silent as his successor targets public health, environment and climate regulations from Obama’s time as part of the current administration’s regulation-cutting drive.

“We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic. We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial,” Obama tweeted after Trump’s transportation and Environmental Protection Agency heads made the final rule public.

Obama also ventured into this year’s presidential campaign with the mileage rollback, telling Americans to “vote this fall.” His vice president, Joe Biden, is the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Trump’s new mileage standards will require automakers to achieve 1.5% annual increases in fuel efficiency. The Obama-era standards called for 5% annual increases.

John Bozzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing automakers, said the industry still wants middle ground between the two standards, and it supports year-over-year mileage increases. But he says the Obama-era standards are outdated because of the drastic shift to trucks and SUVs.

Trump initially proposed simply dropping mandates for more fuel efficiency entirely, but he compromised after California and a dozen other states and a faction of automakers revolted, and after Trump federal officials had difficulty coming up with justifying arguments.

The compromise “strikes the right regulatory balance that protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry,” EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said. “This rule supports our economy, and the safety of American families.”

James Owens, acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said automakers still can sell electric powered and other more efficient vehicles. But he said the rule will ensure that more people can buy new vehicles.

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