Auto Firms Side With Trump Administration Against California’s Emission Standards

Automakers support President Trump in rolling back Obama-era GHG fuel economy standards
By Alan McDonnell
Alan McDonnell
Alan McDonnell
October 29, 2019 Updated: October 29, 2019

Giants of the automotive industry both in the United States and abroad have come out in support of the Trump administration on the issue of emission standards. General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, and a raft of other manufacturers and suppliers are falling in behind President Trump in a lawsuit on whether California will continue to have the authority to set its own fuel economy standards as well as emission standards for greenhouse gases.

Under the “One National Program Rule,” the Trump administration has pledged to “establish attainable fuel economy and GHG (greenhouse gas) vehicle emissions standards that will help ensure that more Americans have access to safer, more affordable, and cleaner vehicles that meet their families’ needs.”

The so-called Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation combines the forces of GM and Fiat Chrysler with the more formal Association of Global Automakers, which bundles manufacturers such as Toyota, Aston Martin, Nissan, and Ferrari with key auto industry suppliers such as Bosch and Texas Instruments.

Coalition spokesman and CEO of the Association of Global Automakers, John Bozzella, said that although the group wants stricter standards than those proposed by the Trump administration, they still felt the need to step in. “The certainty of one national program, with reasonable, achievable standards, is the surest way to reduce emissions in the timeliest manner,” he told The Associated Press. “With our industry facing the possibility of multiple, overlapping, and inconsistent standards that drive up costs and penalize consumers, we had an obligation to intervene.”

Bozzella said he believes a middle ground could be found in the fight to lower emissions and improve fuel economy.

A lawsuit is currently being pursued by the Environmental Defense Fund against the Trump administration, as the president seeks to roll back Obama-era congressional rulings that allowed California to set stringent standards for emissions and economy—far above the standards set by federal regulators.

Both the Trump administration and most of the industry agree, however, that setting one standard would be the most efficient way of achieving industry goals, and would ultimately produce the best results for the environment. Negotiations between Trump officials and California had reached a stalemate this fall, however, causing President Trump to announce that he would seek to revoke California’s authority to set their own standards.

Four other major car manufacturers—Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda—made a separate agreement with California’s air pollution regulation authority, the Air Resources Board, in July on tougher emission and fuel economy standards. However, the Justice Department subsequently launched an antitrust probe into their actions, with federal investigators now probing whether these manufacturers engaged in anti-competitive behavior in forging agreements between each other to follow California’s standards.

Cars drive
Cars drive on a congested freeway in Los Angeles on Aug. 28, 2018. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration proposes maintaining standards at 2021 levels until 2025. Under Obama administration standards, new vehicles would have to achieve 30 mpg in real-world driving conditions by 2021, and 36 mpg in 2025. Current standards demand a fuel efficiency of 26 mpg.

According to the current administration, freezing fuel economy levels will reduce average new car prices by up to $2,700 by 2025. Making these newer cars more affordable will make road travel safer and boost manufacturing in the automotive sector.

Environmental groups, however, believe savings to consumers may be offset by higher fuel costs per mile if standards remain frozen at 2021 levels.

By virtue of a congressional waiver, the Clean Air Act of 1970 granted California the authority to set its own emission standards. With the most cars of any state, California continued to face unique smog and air quality issues. The administration of President George W. Bush denied California’s proposal to introduce stringent greenhouse gas standards for cars and trucks. However, the state asked the EPA to reconsider, and the proposal was accepted in 2009 during the presidency of Barack Obama.

Numerous other states and the District of Columbia adhere to California’s fuel economy standards.

The EPA is now seeking to withdraw the 2013 Clean Air Act waiver that allowed California to pursue its own tailpipe greenhouse gas emission and fuel economy standards, and zero-emission vehicle mandate.