My turn: Protecting clean car standards is a moral, health and economic imperative

By John Coleman and Allis Druffel, Special to CALmatters

We vote our values at the ballot box and with our wallets. That includes caring for Creation and for people impacted by the environmental crisis we are now experiencing here in California.

These values are driving us to hold automakers accountable in the fight to protect the health of our most vulnerable citizens and our economy against attacks on life-saving state and federal clean car standards.

In California, transportation is the number one source of health-harming smog and climate change emissions. Eight of the top 10 U.S. cities with the worst ozone are located in California. Low-income people are disproportionately impacted by this pollution.

The state has long led the fight to clean up cars, setting strong statewide tailpipe standards that have been adopted by 14 other states. California developed a zero-emission vehicle program adopted by nine other states, offering electric car rebates and setting standards for low-carbon fuels. All of this work has helped to improve public health, especially for children and the elderly.

Market signals from these standards have helped build a new clean vehicle market, supporting good-paying manufacturing jobs that help lift families and communities out of poverty.

More than 519,000 Californians work in clean energy industries and more than $45 billion in public and private investments have flowed into the state. Our leadership on clean cars has cleaned up the air and strengthened our economy.

But California’s right to set vehicle pollution standards as well as our national clean cars standards, which the state helped inspire, are under threat.

When our clean car standards were first implemented in 2012, Ford’s chief executive, Bill Ford, pledged his commitment to them. But two days after the 2016 general election, Ford Motor Company’s new CEO, Mark Fields, led other Detroit automakers at a meeting urging President-elect Donald Trump to relax the standard.

Automakers must understand that if state and federal clean car standards are weakened, as a result of their lobbying, public health, climate emissions, the economy and job creation will suffer in California.

Based on recent comments, it seems automakers no longer have an appetite for a full rollback.

Regardless, as part of a national faith movement, we are calling on all automakers to view these standards from a moral perspective and halt any and all efforts to roll back their benefits, including their calls for loopholes that would harm the most vulnerable among us.  

Our moral obligation to call on auto industry leaders to support clean cars stems from the desire to prevent disease and premature death, and fight climate change, which is responsible for worsening weather conditions.

And we cannot ignore the financial benefits of clean car standards with $8,000 in savings on a new vehicle in 2025 and $1.7 trillion in savings at the pump over the life of the program for the entire U.S.

Trump’s National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Agency are expected to release a final rule on the rollback this spring. Automakers still have time to work with clean car states, including California, to maintain clean cars standards benefits, for the sake of all Californians, our economy, and for future generations.


Father John Coleman was Casassa Professor of Social Values at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, [email protected]. Allis Druffel is Southern California Outreach Director for California Interfaith Power & Light, [email protected]. They wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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