Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Detroit's Death Wish Comes Roaring Back as Trump Vows to Lower Emission Standards

Energy
Trump meets with CEOs of GM, Ford, Fiat and Chrysler.

The oil industry and its "deep state" allies in the Trump administration have lured U.S. auto companies into a potentially fatal political trap, chumming Detroit by tapping into the deeply embedded penchant of the Big Three for chasing short-term market trends at the expense of long term value.

Excited by the arrival of a Big Oil ally, Scott Pruitt, to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the auto industry asked the Trump administration to undo the recent Obama Administration rule locking long term, reliable standards for emissions and fuel economy. The industry argued that the standards, which it agreed to back in 2009 as part of the auto bail-out, were now too onerous because consumers were shifting to buy SUV's again with lower oil prices. The argument is utterly bogus. The 2009 rules set separate, if ambitious, standards for each size class of vehicle, so while more SUV sales do drive up average emissions and oil consumption, they do not require the companies to make a single vehicle to a higher standard than they agreed to.

What's really at stake here is the pace of vehicle electrification. Meeting the 2009 standards for each vehicle class was always dependent on a significant portion of those vehicles being zero-emission electric drive. That's an existential threat to the oil industry—and in many ways to Detroit's dealers, who make most of their money repairing the drive trains of internal combustion cars. Electric drive vehicles (EV) have a fraction of the maintenance costs of gas or diesel.

But a rapid deployment of electric drive cars is vital to the long term global viability of automobile manufacturers. Whatever happens in the U.S., global auto markets are going electric and the Big Three need a major U.S. EV market to compete in the 21st century.


A few days before the Trump administration announced that—surprise, surprise—it was giving the auto industry everything it had asked for and more, not only waiving the post 2022 economy standards but also seeking to strip California of its historic right to set its own vehicle emissions rules, I attended a high level strategy session in New Delhi devoted to the future of India's auto fleet. If Detroit had been listening it might have realized the folly of resuming its servile junior partner status with oil.

The message could not have been clearer. Minister after Minister—roads, industry, rail, urban development—proclaimed India's urgent need for "transportation without oil." The government of India's top planners made clear that they were uniformly committed to an all electric vehicle economy by 2030, a step which would dry up the oil industry's biggest remaining growth target. It would also shut off the world's fastest growing automotive market to U.S. manufacturers if they continue to rely on internal combustion engines.

India's domestic ride-hailing service, Ola, announced a partnership with Indian auto maker Mahindra to test electric taxis. The government indicated it would suspend the permit process for electric vehicles, as the City of Beijing has already done, giving electric car ownership a big boost. Toyota boasted that 46 percent of the Camry's sold in India are already hybrids or electrics. The electric drive train has already left the station. With China already far down the electric vehicle pathway, Europe being forced onto it by air pollution problems and India trying to leap-frog both, an auto industry that continues to rely on 20th century technology will rapidly become a 20th century relic.

Why would U.S. auto companies, like General Motors with its big—and bold—bet on the ground-breaking electric Bolt, give up the level playing field and predictability which the 2022 emission and economy rules had given them in 2009? Just as Trump was signaling that he will ease the requirements, Rob Threlkeld, global manager of renewable energy for General Motors, said the automaker is pushing to source all of its power from clean sources by 2050 because that's what consumers want. Why would manufacturers choose a strategic pathway so clearly at odds with where world auto markets are going?

Why would they pick such a big fight with their biggest domestic market. California, joined as it is by a bevy of other states seeking cleaner and cheaper transportation options? Well, dealership pressure is one reason. Dealers hate EV's, because they don't break down and don't fatten their service departments. Another is that the auto industry's lobbying apparatus thrives on the message, "the government is out to hurt you. Fight back!" (After all, if Government Affairs departments concede the reality that government regulations have been, net, good for the industry, keeping it competitive with the German and Japanese manufacturers, what's the argument for fat lobbying budgets?)

From 2004 to 2008, as oil prices soared, Detroit clung to its SUV dependent business model, pronouncing that gasoline prices could never reach the $2.50 mark at which customers starting seeking fuel economy. When that marker was crossed in 2006, Chrysler and GM headed for bankruptcy, Ford for massive debt and value loss and the U.S. industry almost went away except for the Obama administration rescue.

Now, just as happened in that era, the auto industry is once again barreling towards long-term bankruptcy for short-term relaxation of standards. What can rescue Detroit from its own death wish?

Primarily California and its allied states, (Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont), which have adopted their own version of the 2022 fuel efficiency rules and an electric vehicle mandate to go with it. Representing 30 percent of the U.S. auto market, these states alone can drive Detroit to remain competitive in the electric drive segment. While the Trump administration appears ready to deny California the waiver which enables it to maintain its own rules, there will be a major legal battle in the courts over whether the federal government can revoke a waiver once it has been issued. And even if, in the short turn, the Trump administration prevails, California and its allies can make clear that once political attitudes in Washington change, as they always do, that the next round of economy and emissions standards will be much, much tougher than those Detroit is seeking to weaken today. The 2022 rules were very much a compromise—and with foreign manufacturers racing to electrify, California holds a much stronger long term hand than Detroit.

So what the auto companies and auto workers and auto communities, all ought to be praying for is that the Trump administration's ploy to reinforce Detroit's dependence on oil fails—because the courts uphold state's rights and California's ability to insist that the auto industry remain globally competitive.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Michael Svoboda

The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.

Read More Show Less
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday accused NOAA of ignoring its own scientists' findings about the endangerment of the North Atlantic right whale. Lauren Packard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Beth Ann Mayer

Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.

Read More Show Less
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less