Why Trump's decision on mileage standards will lead to a big fight in California


The Trump administration and officials in California appear to be racing toward a head-on collision over federal fuel economy mandates.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced he is directing the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation to review aggressive miles-per-gallon directives put in place in the final days of the Obama administration.

“We are going to ensure that any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs, your factories,” Trump told an audience of auto workers at the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run in Ypsilanti. Michigan. “We’re going to be fair.”

But government officials in California, a market that makes up 40 percent of U.S. vehicle sales and a state that has a waiver under the Clean Air Act to set its own fuel efficiency rules, disagreed.

The original decision by the EPA “was in no way a hasty decision,” Dave Clegern, public information officer at the California Air Resources Board (CARB), said in an email to the Union-Tribune, adding it was “an exhaustive, comprehensive, years-long process of data-gathering and analysis.”

In anticipation of the Trump announcement, on Tuesday, a motion was filed by the CARB, Gov. Jerry Brown and California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra saying the state had a “compelling interest” in minimizing air pollution and climate risks associated with the standards.

Some 13 other states have adopted California’s rules.

In 2012 federal regulators and automakers agreed to boost fuel economy levels for cars and light trucks from an average of 36 miles per gallon today to 54.4 miles per gallon by 2025, with the caveat that increased standards would receive a “mid-term review” by 2018 to determine if they were practical and technically feasible.

But the EPA moved up its decision to one week before Barack Obama left office, pleasing environmental groups but irritating vehicle manufacturers.

“If the standard threatened auto jobs, then commonsense changes could have and should have been made,” Trump said in his speech in which he emphasized plans to boost manufacturing jobs.

The announcement does not necessarily mean that the tougher standards will be reversed after the midterm review is completed, but clean-air advocates fear that a Trump administration headed by cabinet members sympathetic to fossil fuel interests — such as new EPA chief Scott Pruitt — will weaken the rules passed in January.

A White House official said Tuesday the Trump administration will not look to withdraw California’s authority to set its own vehicle rules but at his confirmation hearing, Pruitt would not commit to keeping the state’s waiver in place.

Due to its long history battling smog, California has received waivers from the EPA to institute tighter air pollution controls that go beyond federal rules.

Late in the George W. Bush administration, the EPA moved to deny California’s waiver, arguing that a single, national standard was better than “a confusing patchwork of state rules” but California won the waiver back under the Obama administration.

“Now, more than ever, we much charge ahead toward zero-carbon transportation, not put our most successful policies in reverse,” said Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate for Sacramento-based Environment California.

Earlier in the day, Trump met with automakers who have complained that the higher standards are too expensive and that car-buyers are increasingly opting for sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks because gasoline prices have been low for more than two years.

The best-selling vehicle in the U.S. is the Ford F-150 truck series and even in California, the SUV and truck sales have accelerated while the sales of electric and plug-in hybrids have been flat.

Ford CEO Mark Fields reportedly told Trump the original regulations put 1 million auto industry jobs at risk. 

“The auto industry is crying crocodile tears about their inability to meet these standards,” said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, who hails from one of the states that follows California’s rules. “It has nothing to do with their ability to meet these standards. They can meet them. They know they can meet them.”

In an effort to encourage sales of clean cars, California has mandated that zero-emission vehicles (called ZEVs) make up at least 15.4 percent of all vehicles sold in the state by 2025. 



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