Commentary

Trump Meeting With Automakers Over Plans To Undo Emission Goals

President Donald Trump is meeting with chief executives from automakers, including General Motors, Ford, Toyota Fiat Chrysler and Volkswagen AG, today over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s plans to roll back the ambitious auto emissions standards passed under the Obama administration. 

The thing is, automakers seem to more worried about having multiple standards to meet across the country than they are about meeting the requirements themselves. That reportedly has the Trump administration, which is intent on undoing the Obama legacy wherever it manifests itself, in a tizzy.

Led by California, 17 states said to represent 140 million people — more than 40% of the U.S. market for automobiles — filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month charging that “the EPA acted ‘arbitrarily and capriciously’ in changing course on the greenhouse gas regulations,” Chris Mooney writes for the Washington Post

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The action is said to be “one of President Barack Obama’s most significant efforts to address climate change.” It joins a list of more than 60 regulations and policies targeted by the administration, as the New York Times’ Nadja Popovich, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Kendra Pierre-Louis have reported.

“This phalanx of states will defend the nation’s clean car standards to boost gas mileage and curb toxic air pollution,” California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement announcing the suit, which was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on May 1, Mooney reports.

The automakers have been making their position clear, “telling the Trump administration they want to reach an agreement with California to avoid a legal battle over fuel efficiency standards, and support continued increases in mileage standards through 2025,” Reuters’ David Shepardson reported Monday.

“‘We support standards that increase year over year that also are consistent with marketplace realities,' Mitch Bainwol, chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing major automakers, will tell a U.S. House of Representatives panel on Tuesday, according to written testimony released on Monday,” Shepardson reports.

“GM CEO Mary Barra on Tuesday released a letter to employees detailing her stance in favor of a single national fuel economy standard,” Keith Laing reports for the Detroit News

“Throughout this process, we have been transparent about our priorities for modernizing current rules: General Motors supports establishing one national set of fuel efficiency requirements, with flexibilities that take into consideration recent industry developments such as vehicle sharing and self-driving electric vehicles,” Barra wrote.

Similarly, Ford’s top executives have “signaled their desire for a compromise” with California, report Timothy Puko and Chester Dawson for the Wall Street Journal in a piece underneath the headline: “Trump Administration Irked With Car Makers on Fuel-Economy Policy.”

Puko and Dawson report that “some in the Trump administration and even the auto industry consider the reluctance displayed by automakers to be a public relations ploy. Industry critics note Detroit, despite calls for compromise with environmentalists, is catering to current demand by shifting away from sedans to less-efficient SUVs and pickup trucks in their product lineups.”

“The only goal they seem to have in mind is that they don’t want to look like the bad guys,” MWR Strategies president Mike McKenna, who led Trump’s transition team on energy, tells Puko and Dawson. “This thing was destined for conflict from the go.”

Well, maybe. But there are bottom-line considerations, too.

“Under the 1970 Clean Air Act, California was allowed to set their own standards to more tightly regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Other states were allowed to follow California's standards if they chose. Legal experts have argued that the EPA would face an uphill battle by challenging the state’s waiver in court,” writes Aaron Cole for Green Car Reports.

“And a protracted legal battle could fragment the market for new cars among states waiting for a court’s ruling on special dispensation and states following the federal guidelines. Barra and other auto industry executives may argue that segmenting markets between states could increase manufacturing costs and hinder future product planning,” Cole continues.

“Cars and trucks recently surpassed electricity plants as America's biggest sources of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming. And unlike the electricity industry, in which market forces have pushed utilities toward cleaner energy, including natural gas and renewable sources, relatively low gasoline prices in recent years have led consumers to pay less attention to fuel economy when they buy new cars,” Evan Halper writes for the Los Angeles Times.

“As a result, the steady increase in fuel mileage standards championed by the Obama administration in partnership with California represented the most powerful action the U.S. has taken to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The biggest gains have been projected to happen in the years that the Trump administration’s plan would target,” Halper continues. 

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