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Pittsburgh speakers rally against Trump plan to weaken fuel standards

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Amy Nassif, a Mars mother of two daughters, spoke against a Trump administration plan to weaken fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at the DoubleTree Hilton hotel in Pittsburgh.

Local government officials and advocacy groups lined up Wednesday in Pittsburgh to oppose a Trump administration plan to lower fuel economy standards in three years.

Speakers told representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation that stronger, not weaker, protections are needed for Pittsburgh’s air, which continues to rank among the most polluted in the nation.

“We cannot backslide on this critical issue,” Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, told the federal agencies during a public hearing Downtown.

The agencies released a plan in August to freeze fuel standards for cars and light trucks in 2020, rather than increasing them to 36 miles per gallon by 2025 under an Obama-era plan. The agencies also plan to eliminate a waiver that lets California set its own, more stringent emissions rules. Thirteen states, including Pennsylvania, have adopted the California standards.

Hacker said Allegheny County has improved its air quality with help from existing emissions rules but that it is still out of compliance with Clean Air Act standards for particulates and for sulfur dioxide. She said future progress depends on tighter emissions controls.

The EPA under the Trump administration has said making cars more efficient makes them more expensive, which deters people from buying new vehicles. The DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a study that found more people died in accidents riding in older cars than riding in newer cars.

The agencies concluded fewer people would buy new cars if they were more expensive because of fuel standards, and that more people would die as a result of driving older cars.

Experts disputed those conclusions Wednesday.

Jeremy Michalek, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said the EPA’s analysis used an assumption that for every new vehicle someone buys, 50 to 60 older and more dangerous vehicles would be scrapped.

Michalek added that if vehicles are kept cheaper, more people will buy them, resulting in more vehicles on the road and more deaths than if vehicles were more expensive and fewer people were driving them.

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the group plans to sue if the agencies keep the standards. A representative of the New York Attorney General’s Office said the office also will sue over the new rule if it is implemented.

Kimmell said the public supports lower fuel standards and that average buyers recognize savings can come over the long run from buying a more efficient car.

“There’s a reason the mpg sticker is on a car,” he said.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has supported the agencies’ new plan, and testified at another hearing Monday in Fresno, Calif.

“Future standards must account for marketplace realities like consumer acceptance,” the organization said in its testimony.

More than 140 people signed up to speak at Wednesday’s hearing, which was expected to run late into the evening.

Amy Nassif spoke for Mars Parents Group, a group of about 500 people that advocates for regulating fracking and vehicle emissions to preserve air quality for children.

“Our future generations depend on the current generation to make sound decisions for our health, safety, and environment,” Nassif told the agencies. “So I am here asking you, with your authority, to protect my children, our communities, and the environment.”

Public comment on the proposal may be submitted at www.regulations.gov through Oct. 26.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Wes at 412-380-5676, [email protected] or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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