By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She now spends much of her time in Asia and is currently working on a book about textile artisans.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) yesterday sent a proposal to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) yesterday to roll back fuel efficiency standards due to come into effect after 2021.
As reported by the The Washington Post:
The OMB did not release the contents of the document but is expected to publish it by the end of June, prompting a 60-day public-comment period.
The draft of the overhauled standard, as reported last month, would eliminate automakers’ obligation to boost fuel efficiency after 2021 and would set up a clash with California by challenging its ability to set its own stricter standards, a power granted to the state by the [1970 Clean Air Act]. Mary D. Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, met in Washington with officials from the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] in an effort to alter the Trump administration’s position.
The EPA and Transportation issued a news release afterward calling the conversations “productive” and saying that they were “fully supportive of an open dialogue that proceeds in an expedited manner.”
The Trump administration has fixated on rolling back the its precedecessor’s legacy– and no more so than in the area of climate change. As in so many areas – e.g. Obamacare, the Iran nuclear deal – there is far less to these signature climate change policies than was touted (see this previous Real News Network interview cross post, Road to Trump’s Climate Change Hell Paved by Obama and Clinton and Obama Again Sounds Climate Change Alarm But Continues To Support Fossil Fuel Industry). But no one would deny the Trump climate change policy is a disaster– taken by itself, or even in comparison to previous inadequate policies (as discussed further here: in a nutshell, “the Trump administration is ground zero for a certain brand of climate denialism and is especially close to the fossil fuels industry.”
Pending State Lawsuit to Scupper Trump Attempts to Roll Back Future Fuel Efficiency Standards
California on May 1 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seeking to thwart the latest Trump regulatory efforts to scupper the new fuel efficiency standards. As an aside, I’ll point out that as with so many measures– it would be far more difficult for Trump officials to roll back these earlier initiatives if they had not been phased in so slowly and if companies had already made necessary adjustments and investments to comply with new rules.
Forbes reported California was joined by sixteen other states, New York, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Iowa, Virginia, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine and Maryland:
Last month the EPA called the standards for vehicles made between 2022 and 2025 “not appropriate.” The standards, approved by Congress in 2012, required automakers’ fleets to average 36 miles per gallon by 2025, or about 10 miles per gallon better than their current new models.
As litigation proceeds, however, the NYT reports that the standards conflict could hurt automakers, who will likely be forced to bifurcate their product offerings, to comply on the one hand with the higher California standards (which twelve other states would also follow), compared to whatever revised standards the Trump administration ultimately enacts– if it succeeds in doing so and until the larger legal issues are resolved conclusively. The Forbes article reinforces this analysis, noting, “Stuck in the middle are industry executives who simply want one national standard for both fuel economy and emissions.”
According to the Grey Lady, these twelve states and California comprise about one-third of the US auto market:
One of the central and most controversial elements of the proposed rule would formally challenge California’s special status under the 1970 Clean Air Act to set its own vehicle pollution standards. California has said that it will continue to enforce the stricter, Obama-era pollution standards, a move that would create two separate auto markets in the United States — one with the tougher emissions requirements, and another with looser rules.
But while automakers had pressed Mr. Trump to relax the Obama-era standards, some now fear that the president’s willingness to dramatically roll back the standards and to fight California in court could have unintended consequences that could end up harming, rather than helping, the industry.
Should California fight Mr. Trump’s plan in court and win, that could set the stage for a huge transformation of the nation’s auto market, ultimately creating one set of rules for cars sold in California and the 12 states that follow its strict fuel economy standards, and another set of rules for the rest of the country.
The bottom line is that the Trump initiative to create weaker fuel efficiency standards would create a worst-case scenario for automakers, as the NYT explains:
Automakers have long described that possibility as the worst-case outcome for them, forcing them to manufacture cars that meet two separate sets of standards. Opponents of the proposed Trump rule say they hope that possibility will persuade the administration to walk back the proposal before it is finalized.
Unusually, when faced with the possibility of being forced to comply with two sets of standards and an effective split into two markets, at least some automakers themselves oppose the proposed Trump regulatory rollback:
Automakers have also spoken publicly in support of sticking, in some form, to more stringent car standards. “We support increasing car standards through 2025, and are not asking for a rollback,” wrote Bill Ford, executive chairman at Ford Motor, in a blog post this year.
“It has been made very clear that excluding the state of California and freezing fuel economy standards for the better part of decade won’t prove fruitful,” said Senator Thomas Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee. “President Trump should recognize the opportunity here and take yes for an answer, rather than try to push extreme and unwanted standards through.”
Whether fruitful or not, unfortunately, I foresee a long, costly legal battle, with plenty of accompanying political activity, before this issue is resolved– in a way that may fracture the fuel efficiency standards used into two parts, over the opposition of automakers. And need I mention, the federal government will continue to ignore climate change, leaving it to states and private actors to act otherwise.