Opinion

Automakers: Give Families Cleaner Cars or Find Another Buyer

As I joined a cast of millions on the roads this summer, sweltering in heat made worse by climate change, I was painfully aware that it may soon get a lot easier for cars to spew climate-harming pollution into the air. And to add insult to injury, it’s going to cost me more money at the pump.

That’s because the Trump administration is trying to dramatically weaken our climate pollution standards for cars, which would make climate change worse, drive up prices for consumers and threaten tens of thousands of auto jobs.

How reckless is this approach? So reckless that four major automakers — representing about 30 percent of the market — just rejected the Trump proposal. Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW announced instead that they would meet climate pollution standards that are significantly more protective than the Trump rollback.

These automakers recognize the future lies with clean cars. My question is, where are the rest of the car companies?

Having only about 30 percent of the U.S. auto market align with my values, and prioritize my kids, is not good enough. I want 100 percent of the auto market to step up and be the leaders that families across the country need. If Ford can do it, why can’t GM? If Honda can do it, why not Toyota?

The transportation sector is now the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the United States. This means that reducing pollution from cars and trucks is the keystone to addressing the climate crisis.

So you’d think that with its “zero-emissions” vision, GM would be on board with an agreement that helps make all of its vehicles pollute less and run on less gas. By not joining the deal with these four automakers, all of GM’s rhetoric amounts to exactly that — zero.

And as for Toyota, its Prius is practically the poster child of the clean car movement. It’s hard to understand why this automaker was not one of the originals to sign on to the announcement. It begs the question, is Toyota using its clean car credentials to greenwash a polluting future?

The least these automakers can do to save face is join the deal, but they’re doing nothing, and that’s worse.

Ideally, we would keep our current clean car standards that have helped bring to market the safest, most fuel-efficient vehicles American families have ever known — as well as protect the long-standing rights of states to have stronger-than-national tailpipe standards, enabling them to protect their residents from air pollution as they see fit.

In the face of losing these protections, the next-best option is to have all automakers get on board with this deal. And why not? It’s in their best interest. Automakers will benefit from creating cleaner cars to complete in an increasingly efficient global market.

Indeed, given the upside of cleaner cars for automakers, for our families, and for the climate, the Trump rollback is clearly a bum deal all around.

Big Oil is the only sector that stands to benefit. A recent exposé found that oil companies are major backers of the rollback, which will boost their profits at the expense of family budgets.

Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Subaru, Nissan, Tesla, Hyundai and especially GM and Toyota, your silence speaks volumes. At this critical moment in the climate crisis, you are turning your backs on us. But, you don’t have to. This is an opportunity to do something good for America’s children — whose future is on the line.

As one of millions suffering through extreme heat this summer, I can assure you that I’ve had quite enough of fossil fuel dependency. And when it’s time to buy a new car, I know I’ll remember those companies that chose to do the right thing. 

 

Molly Rauch is the public health policy director for Moms Clean Air Force in Washington, D.C., and she has three children, ages 11, 13 and 16.

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A previous version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that Mercedes-Benz was part of a pact of automakers that opposed the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back vehicle emissions standards.

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