Published: Thu, July 26, 2018
Research | By Derrick Holloway

Trump is going after California's clean auto mandate

Trump is going after California's clean auto mandate

On Tuesday, at least one industry insider said the Trump administration may stop short of fully revoking California's authority to set emissions standards and defer a decision until later. It also sets up a high-stakes battle over California's unique ability to combat air pollution and, if finalized, is sure to set off a protracted courtroom battle.

The Trump administration will propose a plan to freeze emissions standards at 2020 levels while undercutting California's legal waiver to set emissions standards that are stricter than those set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to three sources that Bloomberg spoke to.

California and 16 other states, plus the District of Columbia sued May 2 to block the Trump administration from pumping the brakes on emissions standards. Jerry Brown did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

An annual report issued this month by the California Air Resources Board found that California already has met its 2020 goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels.

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The EPA and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are reportedly backing the proposal, each agency providing its own remedy to strip California of its authority.

The administration also contends the new rule would reduce "societal costs" by about $500 billion over the life of the vehicles but the administration's overall forecast net benefits are unclear, once higher fuel consumption is taken into account.

The Obama administration permitted California to set its own greenhouse gas emissions for cars in 2009, giving it a waiver under the Clean Air Act.

Critics of the Obama era plan to increase average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg have called it a thinly disguised effort to force people to adopt more expensive electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, as the average is hard for automakers to achieve with a model line-up of fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

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California, for its part, rejects the idea that its 48-year ability to write its own tailpipe emission rules should end.

"We have the law on our side, as well as the people of the country and the people of the world", Dan Sperling, a member of California's Air Resources Board, told Bloomberg.

Representative Jimmy Gomez, a California Democrat, wrote on Twitter that the state's "vehicle emissions standards are a big part of our environmental identity".

"This move by President Trump will not only gut federal clean air standards, [but also] this unprecedented attack on state emissions standards will serve to muzzle state leadership on clean automobile standards", she said. While an attack on California's clean auto mandate will cause some uncertainty, it's unlikely to derail the influx of electric vehicles poised for release over the next several years by an increasingly long list of automakers that includes Ford, VW and Porsche. In addition, other major auto markets such as China and Europe are pressing forward with tougher mandates of their own for cleaner cars.

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Detractors say the scheme is an infringement on states' rights and bad for Americans' health.

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