By on October 1, 2018


California regulators voted on Friday to mandate an adherence to Obama-era federal vehicle emissions standards for cars sold in the state, regardless of Trump administration efforts to weaken the standards. It’s the latest salvo in a war between the Golden State and the current administration, which aims to strip California of its ability to self regulate its automotive emission rules and roll back the corporate average fuel economy for the entire country.

However, the Trump team doesn’t appear to be completely ignoring the environment. In a 500-page environmental impact statement from the NHTSA on the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Year 2021–2026, numerous inclusions acknowledge the existence of climate change. But the takeaway from the report is that the NHTSA doesn’t seem to feel that passenger vehicles will make much of a difference. 

Theorizing the environmental impact of emissions standards through 2100, the paper claims warmer temperatures and higher sea levels will be an issue we’re forced to contend with regardless of whether or not the economy rollbacks take place. Basically, we’re in for a global catastrophe and the NHTSA doesn’t see any way to stop it. The report might as well say, “You’ve played yourselves. We’re all doomed, V8s for everyone,” followed by a series of graphs showing how none of the proposed emissions strategies would be enough to save us from drowning in hot sea water by the end of the century.

While it’s safe to say automobiles play a significant role in polluting the atmosphere, they’re a relatively small fry when compared with international shipping, energy production, and manufacturing. Simply using less energy in the home and buying fewer mass-produced goods that are shipped in from other countries would likely have a greater environmental impact than purchasing a slightly more economical automobile.

Cars still play a role, however, and California is dead set on advancing its own agenda to keep the old emission standards while encouraging its populace to adopt more electric vehicles — a tactic embraced by Europe and China.

According to Reuters, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) affirmed a provision in its greenhouse gas vehicle regulation during its monthly meeting that says only cars meeting the current federal standards for model years 2017 through 2025 comply with the state’s standards and can legally be sold there. However, the Trump administration proposed halting federal fuel efficiency requirements at 2020 levels through 2026 earlier this year. In the proposal, the administration claimed stricter emissions standards make vehicles more expensive, less safe, and are in direct opposition to consumer preferences.

A dozen states and the District of Columbia now follow California’s greenhouse gas emissions standards for motor vehicles. But, unlike California, they lack the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s waiver to set their own guidelines (to better cope with the smog that’s plagued the region for years). California is also one of 18 states that filed a lawsuit in May against the the EPA’s determination that existing fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks for the model years 2022 to 2025 should be revised.

Officially, the Golden State is working with federal regulators to establish a national standard. But, unofficially, it appears to be doing everything it can to maintain its autonomy. In a statement, CARB Chair Mary Nichols said the state would “continue to work to keep a single national program,” but noted that Friday’s vote “ensures that California and 12 other states will not fall victim to the Trump administration’s rollback of vehicle standards should its proposal be finalized.”

Automakers are desperate for a single national standard, as servicing two markets within a single country would prove exceedingly complicated. Assuming California and allied states get their way, manufacturers will likely tailor product lines to meet those standards to a large degree — as there’s no penalty for average economy that exceeds the proposed national standard.

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20 Comments on “California Vows to Work Toward National Emissions Standard (While Voting to Keep Its Own)...”

  • avatar
    George B

    This statement is false. “…manufacturers will likely tailor product lines to meet those standards to a large degree — as there’s no penalty for average economy that exceeds the proposed national standard”

    If smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles were more profitable than larger, less fuel efficient vehicles, auto manufacturers would want stronger national fuel economy standards. However, the profits that keep auto manufacturers in business mostly come from larger vehicles that are less fuel efficient.

    • 0 avatar

      Georg – you are assuming that anyone in California government cares about profits? But of course if any firm does manage to scratch out a profit in California, you can be sure higher taxes and regulations will make sure they get taken away by Jerry and his gang to fund various government “investments”.
      It would be very interesting, however, to see the log of private jet, air-travel, and government issue black Suburban car use that CARB officials and Jerry Brown account for as they dictate fuel economy standards to Washington.

    • 0 avatar

      “If smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles were more profitable than larger, less fuel efficient vehicles”

      It is very easy to do by taxing larger vehicles. It is done in Russia and many other countries around the globe.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        “It is very easy to do by taxing larger vehicles. It is done in Russia and many other countries around the globe.”

        No, that makes larger vehicles more expensive. It has nothing to do with the profitability of smaller vehicles unless you are insinuating that vehicle makers would gouge those people the government is now forcing to buy a product they don’t really want.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      George B,
      The reason the US auto manufacturers want to retain large vehicle production is no one else in the World build low quality large vehicles, so there is no real competition for the Big 3.

      The US should consider itself lucky that not many countries want to compete with large vehicles as well, or like small vehicles the US would have a very small vehicle manufacturing industry.

      Most large passenger vehicles outside of the US are prestige and luxury vehicles because of this. Now, the US can’t build competitive prestige and luxury vehicles, this is proven in the sales figures.

  • avatar

    The hell with California and all liberals. Just the fact that leftist control freaks want to force me into one is reason enough for me to NOT ever purchase an electric car.

  • avatar

    If there are 2 sets of emissions standards, manufacturers are likely to adopt the lower-cost approach and either (i) build to 2 standards for cars sold in different states, or (ii) simply build every car to the higher standard.

    In either scenario, California wins.

  • avatar

    If state of California comes up with proposition to make sale of new ICE vehicles illegal I will not only vote for that proposition but will also make extra effort to convince my friends and coworkers to do the same. It is long overdue, ICE vehicles are the biggest threat to environment and future of our country and planet. China and European countries are already moving in this direction. California as a world leader must lead here too.

  • avatar

    Inside looking out, If your adamant about buying electric cars , you all your buddies can pony up the true costs of electric vehicles. NO SUBSIDES FOR YOU!

  • avatar

    California currently allows an exemption for “Emergency and Public Service” vehicles, with purchasers certifying to dealers the purpose of the vehicle. (The dealer is ultimately responsible for obtaining this certification from the customer, it’s done (apparently) at time of vehicle order, with final certification from the customer (perhaps) taking place at time of sale. If the standards are violated, the dealer is responsible for fines up to $44,500 per vehicle.) These vehicles meet “Federal-only” standards–not California standards and may also be in use in other states using California emissions as standard.
    I’ve done a couple of quickie Google searches but have been unable to find how many/what percentage of new vehicle sales in California are “Federal-only” standard cars. If these sales are sizable, wouldn’t that be a major issue in terms of emissions calculations for the state?
    And, here’s an idea of the vehicles that can obtain such an exemption:
    1) Emergency vehicles
    2) Public Service Vehicles (police cars? Utility vehicles? Government-use cars?)
    3) Military Vehicles
    4) Test Vehicles
    5) Vehicles sold to replace lost or stolen vehicles
    6) Right-hand drive mail vehicles
    7) Sales made to non-residents prior to establishing residency
    8) Sales of new vehicles by court order.

  • avatar

    Is it not cheaper to pay the measly CAFE fines, than not sell the highly profitable truck, BMW, Merc, LR, Porsche, etc?

    For decades automakers have gladly paid the Gas Guzzler tax on cars or passed the fine on to consumers. And business as usual. The CAFE fines are about half of the GG tax, so nothing will change if California has its way.

    Except that’s billions annually, adds up quick, all free money. Do you think for a second the near bankrupt CA doesn’t want that cash grab? Do you think this is really about emissions standards?

    And do you still think CA really gives a sh!t about improving air quality? With a single, easy standard, what’s the point of even having a retarded bureaucracy redundant to the EPA?

    Wasn’t the CARB the dummies that once considered banning all black or dark painted cars from California?

    • 0 avatar
      SD 328I

      California is the 5th largest economy in the World, just passing the UK last year.

      CARB (California and 12 or so other states) makes up 50% of the annual profit for auto manufacturers and 40% of all new car sales.

      They have the leverage to do whatever they want and auto manufacturers will continue to do what CARB requires. Why, because they can apply it to all remaining states. You can’t do it the other way.

      The black car thing was never an actual serious proposition. It was a part of a brain storming session and somebody thought it could make headlines. There was never anyone trying to make it a law.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        SD 328i,
        I must agree with you. CARB standard vehicles have been the norm for a while now because of the muscle the CARB states have. This is good for vehicle technology and will hopefully give the US a competitive edge globally in emissions control.

      • 0 avatar

        California is acting frivolously and disingenuous. The current administration definitely needs to and will likely strip California of its right to self regulate its auto emissions.

        The Obama CAFE standards were never grounded in reality, just numbers pulled out of the air, and more importantly, never specified actual emissions limits.

        With the CARB locking on to proposed radical, if not insane MPG requirements, it isn’t much different than CARB entertaining banning of black cars, even just an SNL skit.

        Also, the CARB can only regulate CA emissions, not CA MPG. But more importantly, the current Administration isn’t stupid. It’s obvious this is a blatant, unabashed “cash grab” for CARB, since automakers will obviously push through, paying the CAFE fines to the newly, or soon to be formed, CARB Collection Agency.

        It’s fairly disgusting, and clearly has nothing to do with cleaner air.

  • avatar

    This article, along with most others, conflates fuel economy, pollutants harmful to human health, and so-called greehouse gases, all under the icky-sounding term, “emissions.”

    The CAFE law was passed in the early 1970’s as a knee-jerk reaction to the Oil Crisis, it had nothing to do with emissions. The regulation of particles and gases that are directly harmful to humans – real pollution – has been very effective. Although, I believe we have passed the cost-benefit balance point in that area.

    Some people are using the CAFE law as a club to limit greenhouse gases, in particular, CO2. Yes, they are emissions but they are in no sense pollutants. Their contribution to “climate change” is not nearly as certain as its supporters claim.

    I believe the CAFE law should be repealed entirely – the federal government has no business regulating the efficiency of vehicles, appliances, or light bulbs, among other things. Producers will respond to consumer demand for efficiency as needed. Existing CAFE rules have resulted in cars that, while getting better mileage, are more expensive to buy, insure, maintain, and repair due to the complex technology needed to meet the law.

  • avatar

    Where is the true objective reasoning in the argument as presented?

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