GM, Toyota, and Fiat Chrysler Back Trump on Weaker Auto Emissions Rule

“President Donald Trump has scored a key victory over California and Gov. Gavin Newsom in their increasingly nasty fight over climate change [corresponding post in Planetizen] and rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars,” report Dale Kasler and Michael Wilner for The Sacramento Bee

The Association of Global Automakers and the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation — a group including GM, Toyota, Mazda, Fiat Chrysler and Mitsubishi — split with four other automakers that had agreed to follow tougher rules enacted by California.

“The certainty of one national program [see final rule by EPA+NHTSA], with reasonable, achievable standards, is the surest way to reduce emissions in the timeliest manner,” John Bozzella, the head of the coalition, said in a statement. “With our industry facing the possibility of multiple, overlapping and inconsistent standards that drive up costs and penalize consumers, we had an obligation to intervene.”

“In their filing [pdf] with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [on Oct. 28], the automakers and the National Automobile Dealers Association said they backed the administration bid to bar individual emissions rules by states,” writes David Shepardson for Reuters (source article). “The decision to side with President Donald Trump could prompt a furious backlash from Democrats and environmentalists.”

Senator Tom Carper [of Delaware], the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, had harsh words for the automakers.

“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, these companies have chosen to head down a dead-end road,” Carper said in a statement.

The Sierra Club reacted similarly. “Shame on these automakers who support the Trump Administration’s illegal and dangerous attack on state authority, clean air, and climate progress,” stated Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign.“

Eight prominent environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club, and Public Citizen, filed suit [pdf] against Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Sept. 27 over the revocation of the Clean Air Act waiver allowing California to adopt stricter motor vehicle emissions standards. It is that lawsuit, Environmental Defense Fund, Petitioner, V. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Respondent [pdf] in which the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation and the Association of Global Automakers intervened rather than the 23-state lawsuit, led by California and 22 other states, the District of Columbia, and the cities of NY and LA, filed against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Sept. 20. [See ‘update’ at the base of the post].

Toyota draws special attention

Tiffany Hsu of The New York Times writes about a possible backlash by California consumers against Toyota, long associated with being an environmentally-conscious company due to its Prius line of hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles. In 2012, the Prius was the best-selling car in the Golden State.

Some said they would no longer buy Toyota vehicles, opting instead for competitors like Ford, Volkswagen, Honda or BMW — all of which reached a surprise agreement with California in July to scale back emissions in their cars.

The state has vowed to abide by an Obama-era standard that would require automakers to build vehicles that reach an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025…The Trump administration wants to loosen the regulation to about 37 miles per gallon.

“The brand perception of Toyota is quite at odds with this view,” said Puneet Manchanda, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan. “If any brand is going to be hurt, Toyota would probably be the most.”

Toyota defended its legal action in its own press release, claiming that they joined the coalition “to help forge a sustainable compromise for consumers and the environment. Without joining this legal action, we would have no ability to affect the outcome.”

However, Sean Hecht of the UCLA School of Law finds that the company’s arguments ‘ring hollow.’ He concludes his post in Legal Planet by writing:

If Toyota and other manufacturers are serious about their commitment to fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, affordable vehicles, and national standards, they should advocate strongly for a single, national standard like the one negotiated and set into law in the Obama administration

Date to watch: November 24

On Sept. 19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation announced the “Final Rule: One National Program on Federal Preemption of State Fuel Economy Standards:

This action finalizes critical parts of the Safer, Affordable, Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule that was first proposed in August 2018. This action makes clear that federal law preempts state and local tailpipe greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards as well as zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates.

The rule was published Sept. 27 in the Federal Register which indicates that the rule takes effect on November 24. As posted on Sept 21, “Did the Outlook for Electric Vehicle Sales in U.S. Just Nosedive?” this means that the California Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Program, and the ZEV programs in the ten Section 177 (of the Clean Air Act) States that have adopted the California ZEV standard: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and most recently, Colorado, essentially become suspended as the requirements can no legally be enforced.

Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik penned two excellent columns on the auto industry intervention on behalf of the Trump administration: