(Repeat story published Wednesday to widen distribution)
By Peter Henderson
SAN FRANCISCO, March 16 Automakers hailed
President Donald Trump’s call on Wednesday for the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency to review and possibly dial back
car fuel efficiency standards. But California sees things
California plans to move ahead with tougher car pollution
rules for 2022-2025, which the administration of former
Democratic President Barack Obama hastily approved before Trump
took office. California regulators are expected to finalize the
rules at a March 23-24 meeting.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Scott
Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, said his agency will review
the federal rules and is widely expected to loosen them.
Meanwhile industry group Auto Alliance has sued the EPA to
overturn its rules, which automakers says are expensive and
could cost Americans jobs. California's attorney general has
asked the court to let the state defend the Obama regulations.
Currently, the nation has a single set of standards
automakers must meet when manufacturing vehicles. The clash
between California and the Trump administration could lead to
one set of standards in California and at least a dozen other
states and another standard in the rest of the country,
increasing costs for car makers and headaches for consumers.
"We are not backing down," said Hector De La Torre, a member
of the California Air Resources Board, which sets policy that
more than a dozen other states follow in full or part. Reuters
spoke to a majority of board members, who all voiced support for
the original plan worked out by the federal government,
carmakers and California during Obama's presidency.
That plan includes stricter tailpipe emissions targets and a
California mandate for zero-emissions cars.
Pollution controls carry important financial and health
consequences for the United States.
U.S. and California regulators last year projected in a
draft review that stricter pollution controls will add about
$1,000 to the cost of each car sold in 2025. They say that cost
will be more than offset by the benefit of lower fuel costs and
cleaner air. Automakers say they did not get enough time to
review the study.
Governor Jerry Brown has promised to lead the fight to stop
Trump from weakening environmental rules, a stance echoed by Air
Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols.
“We intend to stick by the commitments that we made. If for
some reason the federal government and the industry decide to
abandon those agreements that we all reached, we will have to
re-examine our options," she said in an interview. "If the issue
is are they going to relax the standards, then we would
vehemently oppose that.”
Federal law prohibits states from setting their own vehicle
emissions rules, except for California, which can seek waivers
to federal policy under the Clean Air Act.
California has a waiver for the plan through 2025, although
its targets are the same as federal ones and it does not require
separate compliance from automakers.
If the EPA relaxes its own rules, that could change.
California may hold automakers to the original targets by
beginning to enforce its rules independently. It is not clear
whether that technical decision would require an additional
waiver from the Trump administration.
Natural Resources Defense Council vehicle analyst Simon Mui
argued it would not. "California doesn't need a permission slip
to stick with the standards it has on the books," he said.
Automakers desperately want to continue with a national
policy to avoid making different cars for different states. Oil
refineries already face challenges in California because they
say the state has the strictest environmental rules in the
United States, requiring special blends of gasoline to reduce
In a battle with California, the federal government could
try to change the Clean Air Act to end regulation of carbon
dioxide as a pollutant, or it could try to revoke California's
permission to enforce the current car pollution program.
Both approaches could be difficult, and a Trump
administration official speaking on condition of anonymity, said
the president was not seeking to revoke California's authority
at this time, but would not rule out such a move in the future.
(Additional reporting by Rory Carroll in San Francisco and
Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Sue Horton and Lisa