Calif., carmakers escalate fight over standards

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2018

After the Trump administration came out with a proposal for revised clean car rules last week, automakers and California are stepping up their fight over the high-stakes standards.

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week sent a joint proposal for revised rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget (Greenwire, May 31).

While the agencies have been tight-lipped about the contents, a leaked EPA draft outlines a series of alternatives, with the “preferred” alternative being a freeze of fuel economy targets at 2020 levels through 2026.

With the proposal now under standard interagency review, the newest phase of the fight between automakers and the Golden State turns on one phrase: “deemed to comply.”

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) last month floated an amendment to the state’s fuel efficiency rules under which automakers would only be “deemed to comply” if their vehicles met Obama-era national limits, not weakened national limits under the Trump administration.

But in a Monday statement, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers argued that California must comply with the federal rules even if they’re weakened.

“Automakers support a single national program for fuel economy and greenhouse gases, and any effort by ARB to revise the history of the ‘deemed to comply’ provision moves us farther away from that goal,” said the statement obtained by E&E News.

“In fact, in its own documents ARB quotes EPA’s understanding that California’s rule will deem compliance with EPA standards ‘even if amended after 2012.’

“A better approach is for California — and all other stakeholders — to lean in to the discussions on how best to reduce fuel use and carbon emissions while still preserving other priorities, like vehicle affordability, safety and auto jobs.”

The statement followed a May 31 letter to CARB, in which the alliance argued that any move by the Golden State to jettison the “deemed to comply” provision could derail negotiations on the rules.

California, for its part, has sought to bring in the White House regulatory shop as an arbiter of the dispute.

CARB sent a letter yesterday asking for a meeting with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within OMB, where the proposed rule revisions have been sitting since late last week (Climatewire, June 6).

CARB spokesman Stanley Young said in an email to E&E News, “OIRA is meant to be a check on agencies’ regulatory (or in this case, de-regulatory) actions — enforcing standards of cost-benefit analysis and administrative due process. We believe that if they do their job properly they will insist that EPA and [the Department of Transportation] consider more modest changes than what we understand are being proposed.”

He added, “We do expect to get a meeting.”