Car rules rollback threatens auto jobs in swing states — report

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, August 5, 2019

The Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era clean car standards could prevent automakers from adding thousands of new jobs in states that backed Donald Trump in the 2016 election, according to a new report.

Dialing back the car rules “would result in between 89,000 and 202,000 of tomorrow’s jobs lost or foregone,” states the reportfrom the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups.

Many of those jobs would be concentrated in Michigan, Ohio and other Midwestern states that went for Trump in 2016, clinching his victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The report looked at what would happen if the Obama-era standards were left in place through 2025. It forecast that the standards would spur automakers to deploy a host of new technologies aimed at improving fuel efficiency. It further projected that thousands of workers would be hired and retained to build those new technologies.

For comparison, the report looked at what would happen if the Trump administration gutted the standards through 2025. It found that automakers and suppliers would cut back on their operations, and up to 202,000 new jobs would not end up materializing. The administration has proposed freezing car standards between model years 2020 and 2026, markedly reducing the distance that new cars could drive on a gallon of gasoline.

The report’s job estimate is far more pessimistic than the one maintained by the administration, which estimated in its own analysis last summer that the rollback would lead to the loss of 60,000 jobs (Climatewire, Aug. 7, 2018).

“Strong, ongoing standards drive job growth. And what we found in this analysis was jobs forgone,” said Zoe Lipman, director of the Vehicles and Advanced Transportation Program at the BlueGreen Alliance.

“At a time when Americans are asking about boosting good-paying manufacturing jobs, this is taking us in exactly the wrong direction,” she said.

United Auto Workers President Gary Jones said in a statement that the report “illustrates that well-crafted regulations can be good for both workers and the environment. Proposed rollbacks threaten this careful balance.”

The White House disputed the report, saying the rollback will “lead to more jobs.”

“The Administration’s proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule has the potential to save consumers nearly $3,000 in the cost of a new vehicle, allowing more Americans to purchase newer, safer, and cleaner vehicles,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email. “It will also set a realistic and transparent fuel economy standard that will continue to reduce auto pollution. The reduced regulatory costs and burdens could increase new vehicle sales by 1 million through [model year] 2029, and will lead to more jobs for Americans.”

A spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration raised questions about the report’s credibility.

“The authors of the report note that their approach ‘necessarily entails a number of simplifying assumptions’ and we believe that they have simplified their analysis out of the realm of reality,” the spokesman said in an email.

The report surveyed a variety of fuel-efficient technologies and materials, including advanced engines, light-weighting and transmission.

In terms of advanced engines, the report found that 42 companies manufacture such technology at 97 facilities around the country. It concluded that 16,000 to 71,000 jobs in this sector could be lost or forgone as a result of the rollback.

Trump campaigned on a promise of bringing back manufacturing jobs. Speaking to a crowd of Michigan auto workers in March 2017, he declared, “The assault on the American auto industry is over.”

But under his administration, several automakers have seen sales level off because of the trade war and broader shake-ups in the industry. General Motors Co. last year announced a round of layoffs and plant closures across North America, including at an assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

In a notable omission, the report did not take into account a recent deal between California and four major automakers to improve fuel efficiency in the coming years.

The four automakers — Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Volkswagen AG and BMW of North America — together represent roughly 30% of the U.S. auto market (Greenwire, July 25).

“We did not take that deal into account,” Lipman said. “But the fact that we’re seeing this agreement between California and the four automakers underscores the uncertainty about the future, which is not good for companies that need to make long-term investments.”