The Trump Administration is set to roll back the Obama-era Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicle Rule.

The changes would allow vehicles to emit about a billion tons more of carbon dioxide—about a fifth of annual emissions. And it’s just one of many EPA rollbacks the Trump administration has made in an attempt to bolster the nation’s fossil fuel industry.

The SAFE Vehicle Rule, which requires American auto makers to make their vehicles nearly 5 percent more fuel-efficient each year, has the goal of encouraging more investment and research into hybrid vehicles and other green options. It is meant to go into force for vehicles sold between 2021 and 2026

The 4.7-percent required increase of efficiency will be reduced to 1.5 percent per year, which is less than the industry has been doing on its own (an average of 2.4 percent).

According to EPA Chief Andrew Wheeler, the coal lawyer appointed by Donald Trump in 2017, the goal of this rollback is to keep new cars more affordable for consumers.

The administration claims that by reducing the requirements on the industry, newer and therefore safer cars will cost less for consumers, potentially saving lives.

“Now, more than ever, this country needs a sensible national program that strikes the right regulatory balance for the environment, the auto industry, the economy, safety, and American families,” said Wheeler. “[This rule] does all of those things by improving fuel economy, continuing to reduce air pollution, and making new vehicles more affordable for all Americans.”

Opponents point out the known death count of air pollution, particularly obvious in the midst of a pandemic which is especially hazardous to victims of respiratory conditions caused by air pollution.

“This will mean there will be more pollution associated with oil extraction, transport, refining—sort of all the way from the well to the pump,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association. “This will mean high levels of smog, more coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, asthma attacks, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) exacerbations, and also more particulate pollution.”

And as usual with these measures, communities near oil refineries and highways—often people of color and poorer Americans—will be the first to feel the brunt of the SAFE Vehicle Rule rollback.

Twenty-three state and Washington, D.C., are taking the issue to federal court. In 2017, Trump removed states’ authority to set their own regulations on the automobile industry, leaving the EPA as their only protection.

Photo by J.A. Dunbar /