Calif. preps for war over car rules

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2018

In the messy battle between California and the federal government over clean car rules, California just showed President Trump the divorce papers.

In a seemingly innocuous, wonky document released yesterday, the state’s air regulator said it was considering officially changing which requirements manufacturers will have to meet in California. Under the new proposal, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) would only accept cars that meet the Obama-era rules, in case the Trump administration rolls those back.

The proposal raises the stakes less than a week after California and 17 allies sued EPA over its intention to lower the requirements. California’s latest document left the door open to a reconciliation, saying it was still considering its options. The state announced the idea only as a request for public input so it could “timely respond” to federal changes.

“Continuing emission reductions from light-duty vehicles are critical to protecting public health, and to meet state statutory requirements for GHG emission reductions,” said the request for ideas.

If CARB went through with the change and Trump changes the federal standards, manufacturers would have to meet Obama-era requirements for fuel efficiency in California and the 12 states that have adopted its program, and weaker Trump-era requirements in the rest of the country.

That patchwork is a worst-case scenario for automakers.

They are planning to meet with Trump on Friday, per the White House’s invitation. Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said they will tell the White House they want “continuous improvements” in fuel economy — as opposed to the freeze the Trump administration was considering in a leaked draft plan. They will also tell him “an agreement among the federal government, California and the auto industry is better than years of litigation,” she added.

The agreement that is unraveling now was first struck by President Obama in a landmark 2009 deal. Back then, California agreed to allow cars that met the federal rules to be sold in its state, even though it was ready to set more stringent rules itself. That meant cars are “deemed to comply” with California’s program if they meet the federal rules. Cars also comply with California’s program if they meet a slightly different, more stringent version of the rules unique to the state and its allies. The arrangement meant automakers could get a single federal certification for cars sold across the country.

Now, California is considering “clarifying” that cars are “deemed to comply” with its laws only if they meet the rules that the Obama administration wrote, which would bring real-world average fuel efficiency to around 36 mpg, up from 26 mpg now. That would mean automakers would have to get in-state approval for their cars.

California is taking public input through May 31.

CARB did the same thing in February when it approved emissions standards for trucks starting in model year 2020 (Climatewire, Feb. 9).