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News > U.S.

California, 4 Automakers Defy Trump's Fuel Emissions Rules

  • California Highways

    California Highways | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 July 2019

California, the most populous U.S. state, accounts for about 12 percent of U.S. vehicle sales, and if the administration recognizes the deal it would allow automakers to operate under one set of rules.

Four major automakers said on Thursday they have reached an agreement with California on fuel efficiency rules, bypassing a Trump administration effort to strip the state of the right to fight climate change by setting its own standards.

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California and other states had vowed to enforce stricter Obama-era emissions standards after President Donald Trump proposed rolling back the federal rules.

Automakers had worried that court battles between state and federal governments could create years of uncertainty for manufacturers.

Environmental groups had mixed reactions to the California compromise, which is voluntary for the automakers and not legally binding. The plan is more stringent than Trump’s proposal but looser than the Obama-era rule.

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, criticized the California deal, saying it could result in less than half the emissions reductions called for under the Obama rules.

The Sierra Club said, “In the face of a total abdication of duties by the Trump administration, today’s announcement is a positive step forward.”

The automakers “didn’t want to face the expense, distraction and the bad publicity that comes from being part of a big rollback on clean cars,” Mary Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters on Wednesday.

She said the state hoped to turn the voluntary agreement “into enforceable agreements” and that the companies had agreed not to legally challenge California’s vehicle regulatory authority.

The Trump administration said it was moving ahead to finalize its proposal and showed no willingness to reopen talks.

The Trump administration in August 2018 proposed revoking California’s right to impose state emissions standards or require more electric vehicles. The administration argued that federal law preempts states from setting their own rules.

Under Trump, federal regulators backed freezing emissions requirements for new cars and trucks at 2020 levels through 2026. 

However, consumers broadly support prioritizing the environment. A Pew Research Center survey showed that a majority of U.S. adults (56 percent) say protecting the environment should be a top priority for the president and Congress.

But fuel economy ranked only seventh on a recent Kelley Blue Book quarterly survey of the 12 most important factors for buyers of non-luxury vehicles, behind reliability, safety, affordability, comfort, performance and reputation. For luxury car buyers, it ranked tenth.

California’s compromise with the automakers would increase stringency of the requirements at a nationwide average annual rate of 3.7 percent starting in the 2022 model year through 2026, and 1 percent of that annual improvement could be covered by credits awarded for building electrified vehicles.

The deal extends credits for building electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel vehicles and also hikes the cap for winning credits for fuel efficiency improvements not captured by traditional testing. California agreed to remove a requirement to account for upstream emissions of fuels.

On June 6, 17 major automakers wrote a letter to Trump and California Governor Gavin Newsom seeking to revive talks to avoid lengthy litigation. The White House rejected that effort and automakers and California launched private talks.

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