After months of uncertainty, three major automakers have decided to publicly side with the Trump Administration in a key legal battle over fuel economy standards.
- Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Toyota have intervened in a court case challenging the White House decision to block California from setting its own fuel economy standards.
- The court case was filed by California and 22 other states, as well as environmental groups.
- The Trump Administration is also expected to roll back federal mileage standards.
As first reported by the New York Times, three of the U.S. market’s largest automakers have sided with the Trump Administration’s decision to strip California of its ability to set its own fuel economy and CO2 emissions standards.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors and Toyota are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to back the Administration’s plan and toss out a lawsuit filed by California and 22 other states, as well as environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.
The court case centers around the White House decision to strip California of authority granted it during the Obama era expanding powers first set under the original Clean Air Act. It had let the state target greenhouse gases, such as CO2, as well as traditional pollutants, such as oxides of nitrogen, effectively, permitting California to set higher mileage mandates than the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standard.
As part of its expanded authority, the California Air Resources Board also set mandates for zero-emissions vehicles such as EVs and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
In their brief to the court, the three automakers – along with the National Automobile Dealers Association — said that they agree with the White House “that states cannot interfere with federal fuel economy standards.”
Under CEO Mary Barra, GM had been calling for not only a single federal mileage rule but a rollback of Obama-era CAFE standards. (Photo: Getty Images)
FCA, GM and Toyota aren’t the only one backing the Trump Administration. Kia, Mazda, Nissan and Subaru also support the decision to strip California’s rule-making authority, though they did not directly ask to intervene in the case by the Court of Appeals.
Other manufacturers have questioned the logic of having two separate fuel economy mandates, one covering the bulk of the U.S. market and another for California, but some have looked for alternative solutions.
Honda vice president Art St. Cyr last month told TheDetroitBureau.com that his company would prefer a single mandate to having to meet two separate rules. But Honda’s approach was to reach an agreement with California regulators, along with three other automakers, Ford, BMW and Volkswagen, that slightly eased back the state’s original guidelines. Several other manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, were thought to be negotiating similar deals prior to the September 19 announcement by the Trump Administration.
As the largest single new car market in the U.S., the California guidelines carried significant weight with the industry – all the more so since 15 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, have opted to follow the mandate, rather than the federal CAFE rules.
Administration critics fear the White House moves could seriously hamper efforts to sell more EVs. (Photo: EVgo)
“We can still reach an agreement” with California, John Bozzella, the CEO of Global Automakers, an industry trade group, said Monday during a news conference in Washington. But he added that the organization supports the position that “it’s been the federal policy for the better part of 40 years that the federal government has the sole responsibility for regulating fuel economy standards.”
The White House move has also caused a split along state lines, with Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Utah and West Virginia advising the court they support the administration.
The decision by the three automakers to enter the federal lawsuit drew a sharp rebuke from Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“Instead of choosing the responsible path forged by four automakers and the state of California, one that will move us toward the cleaner, alternative fuel vehicles of the future,” Carper said in a statement. “These companies have chosen to head down a dead-end road.”
Last month, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said the administration would next move to roll back the CAFE mandate set by the Obama Administration in 2012. The revisions were expected within a couple weeks, according to Wheeler but have since been delayed. The final guidelines are widely expected to fall far short of the industry/government compromise — which required the industry to reach a fleet average of 54.5 mpg by 2025 – but still set a target of boosting mileage by around 1.5 percent annually through 2026.
WHY THIS MATTERS
If the Trump Administration prevails in court it would block California and a number of other states representing a third of the U.S. auto market from setting tougher fuel economy standards and requiring the industry to sell large numbers of zero-emissions vehicles.