Automakers rebuff Trump, strike fuel efficiency deal with California

Source: By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill • Posted: Friday, July 26, 2019

Automakers rebuff Trump, strike fuel efficiency deal with California

Automakers have struck a deal with California that would circumvent the Trump administration’s pending freeze of fuel efficiency standards.

Four automakers agreed Thursday to produce vehicles that could average 50 mpg by 2026, undercutting efforts by the Trump administration to freeze them at 37 mpg.

The proposed rollback from the Trump administration has set up a clash with California which, for decades, has been allowed to create its own stricter standard that has in turn been adopted by other states.The deal between the California Air Resources Board and Honda, Volkswagen, Ford and BMW of North America gives the companies an extra year to meet standards that are nearly as ambitious as those developed under former President Obama, designed to end the dueling federal and state fuel standards.

“What we have here is a statement of principles, intended to reach out to the federal government to move them off the track that they seem to be on, and on to a more constructive track,” Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, told The Washington Post, which first reported the story.

A joint statement from the automakers said they struck the deal out of a need for consistency.

“These terms will provide our companies much-needed regulatory certainty by allowing us to meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations while continuing to ensure meaningful greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” the group said.

The Trump administration has claimed the lowering fuel efficiency standards will help people afford new cars, but critics say it will help fast-track greenhouse gas emissions from transportation–already the largest sector of such pollution.

The four automakers that signed on to the deal represent just 30 percent of the market, but that could grow as other manufacturers dissatisfied with the federal-state spat could join the deal.

Though automakers initially supported the concept of a change to the Obama-era fuel standards, they changed course as the Trump administration plans developed.

The administration and California, alongside other states, have been feuding over the fuel rollback.

Negotiations between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the two agencies that develop the fuel standard, have been at a standstill.

That tension was showcased in Congress in June, when Nichols came to testify before Congress, only to have EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler send a letter to lawmakers beforehand with his explanation for why negotiations had broken down.

The Trump administration contends freezing fuel efficiency standards will help keep the cost of cars down, helping consumers replace old cars with new ones that are safer and more fuel efficient.

“We know that consumers are less likely to replace their older, less safe car with a newer, safer car if that newer, safer car is 20 percent more expensive,” Heidi King, deputy administrator NHTSA, told lawmakersin June.

But several lawmakers said such a move stands to benefit only the oil industry.

“What exactly are you hoping to accomplish?” Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) asked administration officials as they appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“At best it isn’t clear. A reasonable observer would be forgiven for seeing an Administration so blinded by contempt for its predecessors and so willing to hurt consumers to support oil companies at any cost that it would defy science and common sense to move forward with a proposal with near universal condemnation from stakeholders,” Tonko added.