Automakers Backing Trump’s Gutting of Pollution Rules Are Complicit in Harm to Health and Climate

EWG Challenges GM, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota To Reject Rollback of MPG Standards

WASHINGTON – When the economy recovers and Americans go car shopping, they should shun automakers that broke their promises by supporting President Trump’s gutting of air pollution rules, the Environmental Working Group wrote today in an open letter to the CEOs of General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota. 

Those companies are backing Trump’s reckless and dangerous rollback of federal fuel efficiency standards and his attempt to overturn California’s separate standards, which are similar to those set by the Obama administration in 2011.

In the letter, EWG President Ken Cook reminded the auto bosses that as a condition of the $80 billion bailout that saved GM and Chrysler during the last financial crisis, those and other major car companies committed to better fuel efficiency.

But as soon as Trump took office, the industry lobbied for a rollback of the Obama-era standards, and on March 31, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule gutting the standards even more severely than the industry requested. The rollback will mean 1 billion or more tons of carbon pollution and make consumers pay billions more for gasoline.

Cook wrote:

You are complicit in Trump’s reckless abandonment of the nation’s most significant initiative to combat the climate crisis and the public health impacts of tailpipe emissions. Your support of the rollback in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is a shameless betrayal of American taxpayers that shows callous disregard for the future of the planet and the health of your customers.

The Obama-era fuel standards would have raised the average efficiency of new cars and light trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Under the Trump rollback, vehicle fleets will be required to average about 40 mpg.

Carbon dioxide and other tailpipe pollutants can damage the respiratory and immune systems, leaving many people who suffer from underlying health problems or who live in heavily polluted areas at greater risk of falling ill from viruses, including COVID-19.

Since a front group called the Auto Alliance pushed for the rollback, Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo have backed off and agreed to California’s separate mileage standards. But GM, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota are siding with Trump and supporting his efforts to revoke California’s right to set its own standards.

EWG challenged the CEOs to answer to consumers for their broken promises, asking:

  • What is your policy for accepting taxpayer handouts going forward? “We got bailed out before; they’ll bail us out again”?
  • Is your company’s stated commitment to environmental responsibility anything more than marketing spin? 
  • Will you support the Trump administration in fighting the inevitable court challenge – from California and the 14 states that have committed to its standards – to overturn the rollback?

“Until we hear differently,” Cook wrote, “we plan to urge our audience of millions that when the economy recovers and the time comes to shop for a new car, they should look to auto companies that stand by their word and a shared determination to fight air pollution and climate change. By that measure, right now your companies are rolling out nothing but lemons – and who would want to buy one of those?”

This is not the first time Toyota, which built its brand on fuel-efficient vehicles, has cozied up to the Trump administration. In December 2017, then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who was leading the administration’s rollback of environmental safeguards, told Congress the agency was “partnering with Toyota” to help the EPA operate in “a lean process.”

EWG then wrote to James Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America, calling on him to “immediately and unambiguously announce Toyota's rejection of any management partnership with EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt.” The next month, the company replied that it had no plans to move ahead with the partnership.

“Toyota listened to reason once,” said Cook. “We hope they and the other automakers backing Trump will listen again.”


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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