Chung: Utahns, Say “No” to the Rollback of Clean Car Standards


Inversion in Salt Lake City, UT on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (Photo by Curtis Lin/ Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Stacy Chung

Despite the major consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, there is one possibly optimistic result — significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions. But don’t get your hopes up. Even this slightest possibility of cleaner air may disappear far too quickly, thanks to new auto-emissions standards. Ironically, the Trump administration justified this change as a means to alleviate economic distress while protecting the public and the environment, but in reality, it will hurt the environment, public health and the economy.


Utahns are often subjected to intense air pollution due to inversions that trap contaminants in the cities and towns. In fact, Salt Lake City ranks amongst the worst polluted American cities. Vehicle emission standards are effective regulations — since 1998 they helped reduce tailpipe pollution by 90%. Now, with loosened limitations for emission rates and weaker fuel efficiency standards for the automobile manufacturers, states will experience CO2 emission increases of 5-9% in the coming years. The major consequences of releasing more CO2 in the air means that more heat and smog will be trapped in the atmosphere, resulting in climate change. Climate change is not only a global threat — it is also a major hazard to Utah as it is responsible for wildfires, extreme weather events and damages agriculture and wildlife habitats. With already poor air quality, Trump’s rollback of the clean car standards will worsen Utah’s environmental problems.

Public Health

The rollback that promises higher CO2 emission and worse air quality is also a menace to Utahns’ health, especially in the midst of a pandemic that attacks the respiratory system. According to a World Health Organization estimation, seven million people die every year because of air pollution. A Harvard study found that “a small increase in long-term exposure to [air pollutants] leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate” which it describes as “underscore[ing] the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.” Worse air pollution due to the relaxed emission standard could also pose a substantial threat to thousands of Utahns who are still fighting to recover from the disease.


Since mid-March, over 44 million people have filed for unemployment. The rollback reduces the incentives for manufacturers to engage in deploying renewable energy and developing fuel-saving technologies, and according to the Trump administration, could cost tens of thousands of jobs. Federal fuel economy and emissions standards have saved Utah millions of dollars, but because of the new policy, Utah may now lose nearly $2.5 billion in net consumer losses.

There is great risk in implementing these rollbacks. Utah’s environment, health and the economy are suffering enough already, and these new standards will only hurt the state more. Now is the time to step up and request that the administration reconsider this rollback as all Utahns deserve cleaner air, a healthier community and a flourishing economy.


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