Here’s the Trump admin’s pathetic new fuel efficiency rule for 2026

Here’s the Trump admin’s pathetic new fuel efficiency rule for 2026
Aurich Lawson / Getty

If proof were needed that the Trump administration never met an environmental regulation it didn’t want to eviscerate, on Tuesday morning the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published final fuel efficiency rules[6] for new passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2021 through 2026. As has been widely anticipated, the EPA and NHTSA have gutted plans established in 2012 to make the nation’s fleet of vehicles more fuel-efficient.

Under the old rules, automakers had to get their fleets to an average of 46.7mpg (5l/100km) by MY2025. As of today, even that not-very-ambitious target is toast. Instead, the US government is only requiring the industry to achieve an average of 40.4mpg (5.8l/100km) by MY2026. Fleet-wide CO2 targets have been similarly watered down; by that same model year, the US passenger vehicle and light truck fleet must meet an average of 199g CO2/mile (124g/km). By contrast, new European Union rules that went into effect this year require EU fleet averages to drop below 153g/mile (95g/km), with massive fines in store for automakers that fail.

As continues to be the case, the rules are based on the footprint of a vehicle, with large trucks and SUVs being held to an even weaker standard. As long as a MY2026 pickup or SUV can meet 34.1mpg (6.9l/100km) and emit no more than 240g/mile (150g/km) of carbon dioxide, that’s enough to satisfy the new regulations.

In a self-congratulatory press release[8], EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao lauded the new rule, boasting that new, less-efficient vehicles would be cheaper on average by approximately $1,000, which in turn will allegedly save 3,300 crash deaths “over the lifetimes of vehicles built according to these new standards.” (Such spurious calculations are not widely accepted within the reality-based community[9].)

“An indefensible decision”

As we’ve previously reported[10], the Trump administration is also trying to abolish a waiver given to California under the Clean Air Act that currently allows the state to issue its own, more appropriate fuel efficiency and emissions goals. A number of automakers, including BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen Group, had worked with California on more stringent targets, although General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Toyota have all supported the Trump administration[11]‘s plan to defang the state’s Air Resources Board. According to Automotive News[12], California and 22 other states plan to challenge this new rule in court.

Needless to say, environmental groups, consumer advocacy organizations, and medical associations are outraged. “This is an indefensible decision at the worst possible time. In the middle of a public health crisis that is devastating the economy, the Trump administration is charging ahead with their plan to demolish a rule that cuts pollution and saves consumers money. This rollback defies science and common sense,” said Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“By rolling back popular, commonsense cleaner car standards, EPA and NHTSA would be disregarding their responsibility to limit air pollution and protect the health of all Americans. The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and tougher cars standards play a critical role in stemming climate change. Cleaner, more efficient vehicles and electric vehicles are key to safeguarding the most vulnerable people, including children, older adults and people living with chronic diseases, who will suffer the impacts of climate change the most,” said the American Lung Association’s SVP of public policy, Paul Billings.

“At a time when many Americans are going without a paycheck, it’s unconscionable to approve a plan that will have consumers paying more for gas for years to come,” said David Friedman, VP of advocacy at Consumer Reports. “The rollback of these consumer protections was a bad idea when it was proposed two years ago. Finalizing it now, as we are on the brink of a recession, ignores the long-term financial hardships this moment will have on millions of Americans. People—consumers, workers, and small business owners—are the engine of America’s economy, accounting for over two-thirds of US economic activity, and it doesn’t make sense, especially at a time like this, to just wipe away $300 billion in savings consumers had coming their way from gradual and reasonable gas mileage increases.”

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