White House to Automakers: Choose a Side in the Great Gas War

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
white house to automakers choose a side in the great gas war

The Trump administration has long been at odds with California and a coalition of supportive states that hope to block the rollback of Obama-era fueling regulations the current Environmental Protection Agency deems “unsustainable.” The EPA also says it’s inconsistent with consumer behavior. But automakers have behaved somewhat erratically on the matter, forcing the president to request (by proxy) that they make up their minds and pick a side before a final decision is made.

While industry leaders previously backed the more stringent regulatory framework set in place by the former president, they quickly converged on Washington after Trump assumed office in 2017, requesting a softening of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. After blowback from California and environmental activists, automakers took a more measured approach, publicly stating that they support green initiatives and reducing their own carbon footprint — and suggesting that a national deal be reached that pleases all parties.

Fence-sitting time might be over.

Basically, automakers don’t want to have to sell to separate markets inside the United States. Manufacturers already have to contend with increasingly strict standards in other countries, so dividing the U.S. is a non-starter for them. While it was hoped that a compromise could be reached with California, things didn’t shake out that way. The White House now wants an answer.

Officially, neither the White House and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has said anything on the matter, but Bloomberg reports the Trump administration requested automakers make up their minds during a conference call last month. According to the report, the White House said they need to either support the administration’s plan to roll back regulations or fully endorse California’s stricter ones.

It was probably always going to be this way. Despite months of negotiations, neither side ever seemed particularly interested in finding shared ground on the issue. Most accounts of the meetups ended with representatives saying talks were ongoing … with little to indicate any real progress was being made.

“Despite the administration’s best efforts to reach a common-sense solution, it is time to acknowledge that has failed to put forward a productive alternative,” the White House said last month.

Meanwhile, CARB spokesman Stanley Young claims the administration broke off communications prior to Christmas, “and never responded to our suggested areas of compromise — or offered any compromise proposal at all.”

From Bloomberg:

The request has added to industry anxiety about getting caught in a conflict between Trump and the nation’s biggest auto market, the people said. The president is also reviewing the findings of a Commerce Department inquiry into whether imported cars and parts threaten national security, which automakers worry could provide the basis for new tariffs.

The Trump administration in August recommend capping tailpipe carbon emissions standards and fuel economy requirements at 37 miles per gallon after 2020, instead of rising to roughly 47 mpg under rules adopted by the Obama administration.

The joint proposal by the EPA and the traffic safety administration also called for revoking California’s authority to set its own greenhouse standards for vehicles, a move that could lead to yet another legal battle between Washington and Sacramento.

It’s doubtful automakers will start weighing in. If they do, most are expected to cautiously endorse global standards to maintain an environmentally conscious image. How that will impact the Trump administration’s decision on how to handle the rollback is unclear. It’s assumed that the White House is primarily pressing for the regulatory reduction to appease companies that voiced concerns about their ability to cope with the existing standards. If they truly no longer care, there’s a chance the administration will abandon its deregulation goals and focus its remaining energy elsewhere — rather than become entangled in a prolonged legal battle with California.

However, that’s far from a definitive scenario. The White House has already placed quite a bit of muscle behind the rollback, having taken the position that research data proves the current standards are not in line with what consumers want or need.

[Image: CC7/Shutterstock]

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  • SunnyvaleCA SunnyvaleCA on Mar 07, 2019

    I've always thought that CAFE and the other fuel-economy-related rules and regulations are the wrong approach. If you want fuel conservation, tax the burning of fuel in all its forms and let people decide best how to avoid the tax. Lower other taxes and the result can even be revenue neutral. But please phase it in gradually!

  • Dman Dman on Mar 07, 2019

    Perhaps the administration can show where it is written that someone needs to take a side. Just more dumb arsed "your with us or agin us" mentality thats made Washington a s*&t stain.

  • Jeff S I don't believe gm will die but that it will continue to shrink in product and market share and it will probably be acquired by a foreign manufacturer. I doubt gm lacks funds as it did in 2008 and that they have more than enough cash at hand but gm will not expand as it did in the past and the emphasis is more on profitability and cutting costs to the bone. Making gm a more attractive takeover target and cut costs at the expense of more desirable and reliable products. At the time of Farago's article I was in favor of the Government bailout more to save jobs and suppliers but today I would not be in favor of the bailout. My opinions on gm have changed since 2008 and 2009 and now I really don't care if gm survives or not.
  • Kwik_Shift I was a GM fan boy until it ended in 2013 when I traded in my Avalanche to go over to Nissan.
  • Stuart de Baker I didn't bother to read this article. I'll wait until a definitive headline comes out, and I'll be surprised if Tesla actually produces the Cybertruck. It certainly looks impractical for both snowy and hot sunny weather.
  • Stuart de Baker This is very interesting information. I was in no danger of buying a Tesla. I love my '08 Civic (stick), and it feels just as responsive as when I bought it 11 years ago with 35k on the clock (now 151k), and barring mishaps, I plan to keep it for the next 25 years or so, which would put me into my mid-90s, assuming I live that long. On your information, I will avoid renting Teslas.
  • RHD The only people who would buy this would be those convinced by a website that they are great, and order one sight-unseen. They would have to have be completely out of touch with every form of media for the last year. There might actually be a few of these people, but not very many. They would also have to be completely ignorant of the Hyundai Excel. (Vinfast seems to make the original Excel look like a Camry in comparison.)