President Trump returned Wednesday to the Rust Belt to announced a review of the Obama administration’s high fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, saying the measure intended to fight climate change was stifling the U.S. auto industry.
Standing in front of a crowd of auto industry workers and executives in Michigan, the president said that his review is part of a deregulation and smart trade agenda that will restore American’s “industrial might.”
“We want to be the car capital of the world again, and we will be, and it won’t be long, believe me,” Mr. Trump said in a speech at the American Center for Mobility, an automotive research and development facility outside Detroit.
He said President Obama nixed the review promised to automakers in an eleventh-hour rush to finalize the high-efficiency standards before leaving office in January.
“We are going to cancel that executive action,” Mr. Trump told the autoworkers. “We’re going to help the companies so they can help you.”
The Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards put in place by Mr. Obama were a top complaint from executives of the Big Three automakers when Mr. Trump met with them last month.
The rule mandates that manufacturers increase fleetwide fuel economy from the current average of 35.3 mpg to 50.8 mpg by 2025. The target will remain in place during the review, but the Trump administration is expected to eventually roll back the standard.
Automakers have argued that low gasoline prices are driving consumers toward pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, making the tougher fuel efficiency standards harder to achieve.
Mr. Trump’s announcement was cheered by autoworkers and auto industry CEOs. But revisiting the CAFE standards came under fire from environmental groups, some of which vowed to challenge Mr. Trump’s action in court.
In the speech Mr. Trump also promised that regulatory relief and smarter trade policies would boost U.S. automakers and other manufacturing industries.
“The era of economic surrender for the United States is over,” he said, echoing the campaign stump speeches that resonated with blue-collar voters and helped him flip longtime Democratic Party strongholds such as Michigan.
He said foreign companies have been allowed to dump cars in the U.S. while keeping American-made cars out of their home markets. He blamed politicians for allowing huge trade deficits to persist in the name of making friends abroad.
“No friendship is strengthened through economic abuse. We have been abused,” Mr. Trump said.
He also promised a surprise announcement next week that would benefit the U.S. auto industry.
Vera Pardee of the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity said the president was suffering from “another kind of road rage.”
“As the auto industry embraces cutting-edge technology that saves money and prevents pollution, Trump is telling carmakers to drive backwards,” he said. “An administration that won’t accept basic scientific facts is driving us off the climate cliff.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said Mr. Trump’s stop in Michigan underscored the shortcomings of the president’s legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“It’s clear now that Donald Trump was lying when he promised every family in Michigan would have less expensive but better health care. Trumpcare will cause thousands of working families and older Americans to lose their insurance, including many of the 637,000 Michiganders who qualified for coverage under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion,” he said. “This broken promise may not mean much to Donald Trump — but it’s a matter of life and death to many of the hardworking families depending on keeping their health insurance.”
However, the auto industry lobby credited Mr. Trump with removing politics that Mr. Obama injected into the process by making it part of his climate change agenda.
Mitch Bainwol, president of the Auto Alliance, a trade association representing the 12 largest automakers, said the process was “back on track.”
“The Trump administration has created an opportunity for decision-makers to reach a thoughtful and coordinated outcome predicated on the best and most current data,” he said. “After all, these decisions impact the more than 7 million Americans dependent on autos for employment, as well as the driving public seeking affordable transportation. Our industry is committed to producing even safer and more energy-efficient vehicles in the future, and that’s what this process is all about.”
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.