This Dec. 12, 2018, file photo shows traffic on the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles. The Trump administration is signaling that it could increase fuel economy standards, possibly compromising on its push to freeze them at 2020 levels. Credit: Damian Dovarganes | AP

Transportation is the largest source of climate change-related pollution in the United States, according to the U.S. government. Burning fossil fuels to power vehicles accounts for nearly one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. And, those emissions increased over the past 20 years.

So, if the U.S. is serious about taking steps to alleviate the consequences of climate change, reducing emissions from the transportation sector must be a big part of the plan. That’s why Gov. Janet Mills has made support for electric vehicles part of the state’s plan on climate change.

One of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles is to ensure that they go farther on a gallon of fuel, either gasoline or diesel fuel. So, it is distressing that the Trump administration is still going backwards on fuel economy standards. Worse, it is distorting data to support its unnecessary rollbacks.

Instead of wasting time and taxpayer money trying to devise a plan to ease fuel economy standards — which is likely to still cost drivers more money and do little to reduce pollution — it is past time for the administration to drop this unnecessary effort.

In August 2018, the Trump administration took steps to weaken vehicle fuel economy standards and later moved to revoke California’s authority to set standards that are higher than federal requirements. Thirteen states, including Maine, follow the higher California standards.

The administration proposed to freeze increases in fuel economy standards in 2021, rather than move ahead with a roughly 5 percent increase each year under a plan the Obama administration negotiated with the auto industry, unions and environmental groups. Under that plan, a typical car would need to go 36 miles on a gallon of gas by 2026, about 10 miles per gallon more than current requirements. Standards are lower for trucks.

The Trump administration proposal to freeze fuel efficiency standards divided the auto industry, and scientists pointed out it was based on flawed data and faulty analysis.

An in-depth review of what the Trump administration called the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule, or SAFE, found that the National Highway Safety Administration backed the new plan with an analysis that was riddled with errors.

“If SAFE is adopted into law, American traffic deaths could actually increase, carbon pollution would soar, and global warming would speed up,” Robinson Meyer wrote in The Atlantic. “In other words, SAFE isn’t actually safe — and the Trump administration based its rollback on flawed math.”

The Trump administration has changed course and plans to rollout standards that require small increases in fuel economy rather than simply freezing those standards at current levels. The revised rules are expected within weeks.

Still, the proposal faces a major problem — the math doesn’t add up.

The office of Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who is on the Senate Environment Committee, obtained a copy of the draft rules. Trump’s new fuel economy standards would reduce the cost of new vehicles, but that reduction would be outweighed by the increase in fuel costs compared to the Obama-era rules, The New York Times reported.

This overall cost increase would make it difficult for the administration to defend the new standards in court, Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University, told the Times.

All this adds up to a simple conclusion: Stop trying to justify a change that isn’t needed.

The existing plan to continue to raise fuel economy standards will save drivers money and improve air quality, which will save lives. There is no reason to abandon it.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...