Enviros press carmakers to be ‘climate leaders,’ defend regs

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2017

Environmental groups are launching a campaign to pressure Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG to defend the fuel efficiency standards under reconsideration by the Trump administration.

The Sierra Club, Environment America, Public Citizen, Greenpeace and the Safe Climate Campaign will organize petition drives and social media buzz, they announced today. Their goal is to turn the tide in the negotiations over the car standards by asking companies that have promised to curb emissions and tackle climate change to come out publicly against changes to the clean car rules.

“Once more, we have an urgent need for Ford and other automakers to take responsibility to be genuine climate leaders, and once more they’re letting us down,” said Michael Brune, the president of the Sierra Club.

Automakers, the White House and California’s Air Resources Board have yet to reach an agreement on the standards for model years 2021 to 2025, which were projected to bring the real-world average fuel efficiency of new cars to 36 mpg. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group, has pushed for minor tweaks by lobbying U.S. EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Congress, but individual automakers — which disagree on whether and how much the rules should be rolled back — have stayed quiet.

“In my view, these trade groups are like bottom dwellers,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on a press call endorsing the campaign. “This gives us an opportunity to pressure the companies themselves.”

Leila Deen, projects director at Greenpeace USA, said the campaign was looking to harness critics of the Trump administration to pressure automakers to not be “complicit” in its rollback of climate change policies.

“It’s a campaign about the role of companies in a political agenda,” she said.

The groups sent letters to the CEOs of 20 automakers in September asking them to “discontinue any and all efforts to weaken or delay the implementation” of the standards.

The auto alliance and Ford were the only ones to respond.

“We know climate change is real, and we will continue to work with you and leaders around the world in support of these ambitious greenhouse gas targets,” Kimberly Pittel, vice president for sustainability, environment and safety engineering at Ford, told the NGOs in her response.

The primary focus of the campaign is Ford, with a secondary focus on Volkswagen, according to organizers.

Margo Oge, the former head of EPA’s transportation office, said Ford and Volkswagen were appropriate targets because they have both touted their sustainability efforts and have played key roles in negotiations around the standards in the past.

“Volkswagen is trying to turn around its brand,” she said. “Ford was the key company to get others behind a proposal for 2017 to 2025 standards. … If a company doesn’t do that now, we’ll have a disaster with no agreement.”

Volkswagen has already sought to distance itself from some of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers’ actions to weaken the standards, including pulling out of a lawsuit on the standards. Bolstered by at least $24 billion in direct investment in electrification, the German automaker plans to build electric versions of all 300 models by 2030 as part of its comeback from the diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Ford has promised to invest $4.5 billion in electrifying its new offerings, and redirecting an additional third of its expenditures on internal combustion engine vehicles into electrification. New CEO Jim Hackett created a team dedicated to developing battery electric vehicles.

Ford is one of the laggards on electric vehicles, with only one EV at the moment — an electric version of the Ford Focus — but has said it plans to bring a fully electric SUV with a 300-mile range to the market by 2020.

“We remain absolutely committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Ford said in a statement today. “The auto industry’s collective support for tough fuel economy rules that were 13 years in the future was predicated on a sensible notion — check half way through to make sure the data and the targets matched up. This is exactly what One National Program was designed to do — consistent with the agreement made under President Obama.”