Quantcast

Some Carmakers Put Their Faith in the Trump Administration. It’s Costing Them.

Business
Pexels

By Jeff Turrentine

"Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it." This is something that everybody has to learn at some point. Lately, the lesson has hit home for a group of American automakers.


Over the last several weeks, officials from the Trump administration have been meeting with representatives from big carmakers like GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler, in hopes of getting them to publicly support the president's proposed freeze on Obama-era fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks. But even though some of these companies might want those standards to be relaxed to some degree, they've been forced to watch — and wince — as the administration speeds headlong into a legal brick wall. And honestly, what sort of automaker would ever endorse that kind of driving?

The brick wall is the state of California, which was given the power by Congress to set its own tailpipe emissions and fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks almost 50 years ago, as long as those standards were stricter than the ones set by the federal government. California has consistently strengthened these rules in the ensuing years, with the result being far cleaner air for its residents and far lower gas costs for its drivers. In fact, the state's clean-car standards have been so effective that 13 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted them as their own, thanks to a federal rule that allows for such adoption every time California requests — and is granted — a renewal of its waiver by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Automakers have kept pace by upping their technology game to meet the stricter rules — a decision that's proved to be of immense benefit to all Americans, as our new cars and pickup trucks become cleaner and more fuel efficient year after year. From a production standpoint, that decision was pretty much a no-brainer: If carmakers wanted to sell vehicles in the "clean car states," including the most populous one in the country, they simply had to adapt. And so adapt they did. By 2012, when President Obama announced the new federal standards, the idea of continuously and dramatically improving fuel efficiency was already baked in to the business model of the American automobile industry.


Which isn't to say car companies were thrilled with the way this all played out. While they may have talked a great zero-emissions game in public, many of them privately bristled at the pressure they felt as government agencies enforced new rules in the service of a decidedly ambitious goal: an American fleet that averages 54.5 miles to the gallon by 2025. That's why they wasted almost no time (literally just 48 hours!) before asking the newly elected President Trump to reevaluate the Obama standards, citing the billions of dollars in extra costs associated with compliance. They wanted things to go at a slower, less costly pace. And they had reason to believe the new administration would be on their side—not to mention that of a fossil fuel industry hungry to sell more gas, not less.

Trump, never one to shy away from a chance to undo the legacy of his White House predecessor, heard the car companies' request. "I'll go you one better" was the gist of his response. First he proposed freezing fuel efficiency targets at 2020 levels, which would lower the national average to just 37 miles per gallon. And then, to top that, he vowed to strip California of its 50-year-old EPA waiver.

Last month, the administration signaled its desire to go forward with this reckless plan when it abruptly broke off talks with the California Air Resources Board, negotiations that many people believe the White House conducted in bad faith. This wasn't what automakers had in mind. Unlike the president's legal advisers, apparently, car companies know that the White House can't just swoop in and prevent California from creating and enforcing its own emissions policies. The EPA has granted the state's request for a waiver more than 100 times since 1967; the one request that the agency did deny was later approved. Any attempt by this president — or any president — to deny California its right to control its own air quality is very likely to fail.

But here's the thing: It wouldn't fail overnight. It would be defeated only after many years and many lawsuits. And that prospect is what's making carmakers worry. Because the only thing car companies might hate more than billions of dollars in added costs is an atmosphere of prolonged regulatory uncertainty, which could end up costing them even more. That's why they felt compelled to clarify their original request in a plaintive letter to President Trump last May — the same month that 18 states filed suit against the administration — once it became clear that the president was brazenly stepping into a protracted legal battle that he almost certainly wouldn't win. And that's why most of them are now urging the White House to resume negotiations with California and find some sort of compromise.

Will the White House listen to America's suddenly cold-footed carmakers and head back to the negotiating table? Or will it engage in a needless fight with more than a dozen states? We'll all find out soon enough.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

David Gilmour performs at Anfiteatro Scavi di Pomei on July 7, 2016 in Pompei, Italy. Francesco Prandoni / Redferns / Getty Images

David Gilmour, guitarist, singer and songwriter in the rock band Pink Floyd, set a record last week when he auctioned off 126 guitars and raised $21.5 million for ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law group dedicated to fighting the global climate crisis, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speaks during a forum April 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong / Getty Images

The Trump administration ratcheted up its open hostility to climate science in a move that may hide essential information from the nation's farmers.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Zero Waste Kitchen Essentials

Simple swaps that cut down on kitchen trash.

Sponsored

By Kayla Robbins

Along with the bathroom, the kitchen is one of the most daunting areas to try and make zero waste.

Read More Show Less
Protestors and police stand on ether side of railway tracks. dpa / picture-alliance

Police have cleared 250 climate activists who stayed overnight at the Garzweiler brown coal mine in western Germany, officials said Sunday.

Read More Show Less
Cecilie_Arcurs / E+ / Getty Images

By Megan Jones and Jennifer Solomon

The #MeToo movement has caused profound shake-ups at organizations across the U.S. in the last two years. So far, however, it has left many unresolved questions about how workplaces can be more inclusive and equitable for women and other diverse groups.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Cigarette butts are the most-littered item found at beach clean ups. John R. Platt

By Tara Lohan

By now it's no secret that plastic waste in our oceans is a global epidemic. When some of it washes ashore — plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers — we get a stark reminder. And lately one part of this problem has been most glaring to volunteers who comb beaches picking up trash: cigarette butts.

Read More Show Less

Andrea Rodgers, second from the right, takes notes during a hearing in the Juliana v. U.S. case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon on June 4. Colleague Elizabeth Brown sits to her left, while colleague Julia Olson sits on her right, with co-council Philip Gregory on Julia's right. Robin Loznak / Our Children's Trust

By Fran Korten

On June 4, Andrea Rodgers was in the front row of attorneys sitting before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court. The court session, held in Portland, Oregon, was to determine whether the climate change lawsuit (Juliana v. United States) brought by 21 young plaintiffs should be dismissed, as requested by the U.S. government, or go on to trial.

Read More Show Less
Seventy Extinction Rebellion protesters were arrested outside The New York Times building Saturday. SCOOTERCASTER / YouTube screenshot

Seventy Extinction Rebellion protesters were arrested outside The New York Times building Saturday as they demanded the paper improve its coverage of the climate crisis, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less