Local health leaders are warning a potential rollback of clean car standards put in place under the Obama administration will undo years of work to curb pollution and threatens the health of Hamilton County residents.
The Trump administration is considering the proposal and is expected to make an announcement in the coming week.
American Lung Association representatives both at the state and national level are joining a nationwide effort from environmentalists, health officials and some legislators to encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to keep the regulations intact.
"It would create a lot of uncertainty in the market because the world is moving toward more efficient vehicles," said Paul Billings, national senior vice president of public policy with the American Lung Association. "It will create competitive disadvantage in the global market, but more importantly, it will mean we have more greenhouse gas emissions that will drive more climate change, which will lead to more adverse health consequences."
However, the Trump administration argues the changes are needed.
President Donald Trump has long promised deregulation, campaigning on a message to overturn what party leaders believed were years of over-regulation by the Obama administration. Trump declared he would "get rid of [the EPA] in almost every form" and would "cancel every needless job-killing regulation" during his campaign.
The 2012 rules set carbon pollution and fuel economy standards for vehicles made from 2017 to 2025, promising to double fuel efficiency and drastically cut emissions. California — and 13 states that followed its standards — have long been allowed to set tougher rules than the national requirements. When the federal government released the more stringent regulations in 2012, the California coalition followed the standards, creating one set of rules nationwide.
Clean car standard supporters believe the regulations will cut pollution and improve health nationwide. Without the regulations, they fear climate change will continue unchecked, causing low air quality that leads to health problems and weather concerns. They also believe the deregulation would lead to market uncertainty when states again implement different standards.
"We would put ourselves in a legal battle royale with the state of California and at least a dozen other states," Billings said.
The president's initial appointee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, regularly issued memos and proposed rules to overturn regulations put in place to curb climate change before resigning after ethical scandals.
Pruitt declared in April that clean car standards were not appropriate, and the administration believes clean car standards are unrealistic and prohibit automakers from producing affordable vehicles with top safety standards. A rollback of clean car standards would be the first major EPA deregulation post-Pruitt, signaling the agency will continue carrying out Trump's agenda under new leadership.
The EPA press office in Washington did not respond to an interview request by late Wednesday.
Chattanooga has long been a national example of the success air regulations can have on a community. The city was famously declared the dirtiest city in America before enforcing stringent regulations to curb vehicle and factory pollutants.
"We have really seen that success," said Healthy Air Campaign manager Christine Hart with the Tennessee American Lung Association. "Chattanooga has cleaned up its emissions and air quality over the years. There's been so much success, so these federal rollbacks that are continuing to be proposed really are concerning and threaten the progress Chattanooga has made in cleaning its air."