The Trump administration is currently developing a plan that would ease Federal tailpipe regulations across the board. To counteract that, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is considering an outright ban on internal combustion engines (ICE). It’s a game of one upmanship that could be disastrous for carmakers.
Bloomberg is reporting that CARB chairman Mary Nichols is looking to answer any relaxing of fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards with increased regulations governing fossil fuels and the facilities that refine them in the state.
“CARB will be exploring ways to ensure communities get the reductions of air pollution they so desperately need to keep the air clean and breathable — and continue to fight climate change,” Nichols reportedly wrote in draft remarks prepared for an event Thursday. “That might mean, for example, tougher requirements for low-carbon fuels, looking at tighter health-protective regulations on California refineries, doubling down on our enforcement efforts on mobile and stationary sources — and might lead to an outright ban on internal combustion engines.”
Although an outright ban on ICE would be a boon to the environment, it would put carmakers in dire straits. That’s because automakers usually build their vehicle’s emissions systems to California’s emissions and fuel-economy standards and then sell the same products nationwide. Since new-car development takes around six years at minimum (many are planning as much as 18 years out), brands rely on consistency for product planning.
This sort of inconsistency and uncertainty is absolute hell for car brands. While I applaud CARB for wanting to fight the Trump administration tooth and nail to ensure environmental regulations remain robust, this quasi-brinksmanship really isn’t the way to do it. Letting the pendulum swing so far in the opposite direction isn’t really productive.
Automakers are already reeling from the Trump administration’s plan to cap average fuel economy standards at 37 miles per gallon after 2020. Under Obama-era rules, the automotive efficiency rules would require a 47-mpg average. Car brands were marching to those orders. Now that they’re likely to change — and change again under the next administration — auto companies are trying to just do what they think is most likely to occur in the future: go pure-electric.
France, Netherlands, and Ireland — among several other countries — have said they will ban the sale of new ICE vehicles by 2030. For California to make such a move would have widespread implications. Mostly, such a ban in California would be so impactful because it’s the world’s fifth largest economy and home to one of the world’s largest vehicle fleets.
CARB’s Nichols sees such a retaliatory move as necessary — not in a punitive way. She sees it as the only solution to counteract the additional emissions that would be generated by the rolling back of any the U.S.’s standards.
“The federal rule will pump hundreds of millions of tons of climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, and will increase the amount of smog-forming pollution in our most polluted cities,” Nichols reportedly wrote her prepared remarks. “Steps may be needed to keep moving forward to fight climate change and continue to protect public health if it ever goes into effect.”