Will Congress thwart the great American road trip?

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This summer, millions of Americans will use their cars for something other than the school-run or work commute. They’ll venture far from home, exploring the beauty of the great American outdoors and creating special memories with family and friends (fighting over playlists and snacks aside). 

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of the open road. Surveys suggest that 75 percent of American adults plan to take a road trip this summer, including 85 percent of Americans ages 45 to 60.

As a kid, my favorite road trip destination was Oregon’s Lost Lake, a crystal-clear oasis surrounded by old growth forest and stunning views of Mt. Hood. But as climate change intensifies, it is reasonable to wonder whether future generations will be able to enjoy the wonderful tradition of the great American road trip.

In recent years we have seen iconic coastal highways eroded by storms, roads melting under extreme heat and tragic cases of drivers drowning in their cars, stranded in flash floods caused by torrential storms.

The U.S. has made great progress in tackling the climate crisis in recent years, but if Congress strikes down the Environmental Protection Agency’s “clean car” rules, we could be stuck in reverse.

The new EPA rules announced in March put us on a road to a future where clean cars will benefit millions of lives by cutting planet-warming emissions and unhealthy air pollution. They will also save drivers billions of dollars in fuel costs. If we want to keep our American tradition of touring national parks and towns each summer, we should keep the clean car rules in place.

The EPA estimates that its latest rules, if implemented, will cut particulate matter pollution from the average car by 95 percent compared to current standards. That won’t just mean clearer skies on our journeys; it will also prevent up to 2,500 premature deaths in 2055 and reduce heart attacks and asthma. 

By spurring cars to be more efficient, the rule is also expected to save Americans $6,000 over the lifetime of each new car or light truck when fully implemented. That’s a lot of money to spend on park passes, diners and memories rather than gasoline.

That’s why it’s concerning that the House and Senate may soon vote on Congressional Review Act resolutions to overturn the EPA’s latest clean car and truck rules.

Until now, state and federal clean car standards have been a great American success story. Elected officials from both parties have worked together to deliver health and economic gains for the American people. In 1975, President Gerald Ford introduced efficiency standards through the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which President George W. Bush strengthened in 2007. Over those five decades, the average fuel economy of new cars more than doubled, from 13.1 miles per gallon to 33.3 mpg in 2022, helping save Americans more than 2 trillion gallons of gasoline. 

President Bush was right to say clean car standards would help make America “stronger, cleaner and more secure.” Why would Congress want to throw all that away?

The kids fighting in the back seat this summer will learn to drive in just a few years. If the new EPA standards take effect for vehicle model years 2027 as intended, they’ll be taking the wheel in the cleanest, most efficient cars ever produced, including many that don’t need gasoline at all. My own used EV has taken us to Shenandoah National Park, West Virginia, the Assateague Seashore and more, all with zero tailpipe pollution. 

We have a choice. Either we grant the next generation a future with clear skies and a liveable planet they can easily explore with their own children, or we saddle them with ongoing pollution and hefty gas bills. The Biden administration is working hard for that brighter future, with investments in EV charging, electric school buses, EV tax credits and now these EPA standards. It’s what climate science requires and it’s what our kids deserve.

Today, it’s possible to get our “kicks on Route 66” while keeping our air healthy enough to breathe and our climate habitable. A brighter future without dirty tailpipes is within reach – if we stick to the map and don’t take any wild detours.

Lisa Frank is executive director of Environment America, a national network of 30 state environmental groups working together for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate.

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