Gas War Watch: EPA and CARB Leadership Won't Even Share the Same Table

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
gas war watch epa and carb leadership won t even share the same table

Capitol Hill was the scene of some high-school drama this week after representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) reportedly refused to sit at the same table while discussing fueling regulations with the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.

As petty as this seems, it illustrates the overall situation rather well. White House officials terminated talks with California in February, citing an inability to progress the debate. Meanwhile, CARB has been claiming the Trump administration doesn’t want to hear its case and has instead sought to strip the state of its ability to self regulate in order to pass reforms that would freeze national emissions standards at 2020 levels though 2026.

Thursday’s congressional bickering helped paint a clearer picture of what the communications breakdown looked like.

According to Bloomberg, administration officials from the NHTSA and EPA went into Thursday’s hearings refusing to sit with California representatives. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist, had also apparently emailed Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee prior to testimony from CARB Chairman Mary Nichols to say that the state had been negotiating in bad faith since day one.

Nichols, a lifelong anti-pollution campaigner, shifted blame back to Washington, telling the committee “the Trump administration has been unwilling to find a way that works” and “unilaterally decided to cut off conversations.”

From Bloomberg:

Wheeler rejected Nichols’ characterization. “Ms. Nichols was unable or unwilling to be a good-faith negotiator,” Wheeler said, insisting that California’s first counterproposal came more than 10 weeks after the Trump administration proposed changing the vehicle standards — and was just a reiteration of the existing Obama-era requirements, with only a modest change to give automakers an extra year of compliance time.

Even then, Wheeler said, it didn’t have the approval of California’s governor, the state’s attorney general or Nichols’ fellow air resources board members.

“I would state categorically that we proposed areas in which we would be willing to come to a compromise with the administration and we never were told precisely what was wrong with any of those proposals,” Nichols told lawmakers Thursday. “We were simply told that they were inadequate and we had failed to do our job by not bringing a proposal that the administration found to be acceptable.”

Automakers, parts suppliers, and the UAW have united to urge both sides to seek compromise in order to avoid litigation that might gum up the industry. However, the worst case scenario for them is to get stuck with a divided U.S. market.

It’s hard to know who to blame when everyone is crossing their arms and pointing fingers. Taking past events into account, California seems totally disinterested in compromising with the White House and has committed itself to maintaining Obama-era targets at any cost. By contrast, the Trump Administration appeared unwilling to take a wait-and-see approach and presumed CARB would never compromise — so it simply abandoned negotiations.

While Nichols has continued claiming CARB’s opposition to the EPA/NHTSA proposals have been an effort to protect public health, administration officials have hung their hat on consumer trends being at odds with increasing economy mandates and suggesting that California’s aims are largely political. As both camps are utterly opposed to each other, we don’t foresee the extending an olive branch any time soon and would not be surprised if this issue enters litigation later this year. In fact, California is already suing the EPA over the data underlying its justifications for the fuel economy rollback.

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Jun 22, 2019

    @thelaine--Why do we have to use just nuclear, why not use nuclear, natural gas, methane gas, wind, and solar wherever it is the most cost effective and practical. With all those sources we as a country would have no shortages and over we long run we would have more stable energy prices. Think of how much methane gas that is generated from landfills and sewage plants and if we managed to use a fraction of it to generate electricity. Just methane gas alone would satisfy much of our energy needs. Don't just narrow our sources of energy to just a few.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Jun 22, 2019

    @highdesertcat--I am not against ICE vehicles but with technology everything eventually becomes outdated. I don't have to have a big V8 to make me happy but I do want a comfort and reliable vehicle that gets me where I want to go. I have had several V8 vehicles and I enjoyed them the last one was 17 1/2 years ago. Maybe some of the reason a car or truck is not the most important thing in my life is that I work at home 4 days a week and the 1 day a week that I commute the bus takes me within a block of my office and my employer pays for it--I don't have to pay $10 a day to park and put up with the hassle of rush hour driving which I did for years. I also don't put 15k to 20k like I use to on my vehicles every year which now is more like 3k to 4k a year which has allowed me to keep a vehicle for much longer like my 99 S-10 for over 20 years with 118k miles. I do like some of the extra comforts that my other 2 vehicles have like cruise control and heated leather seats with very comfortable rides. I only have myself and my wife so I am not that interested in impressing anyone especially at the age of 67 I don't really care. I could live with an electric vehicle if I didn't have to worry about where and how often I needed to charge batteries. For now the ICE vehicles work for me and I keep my vehicles so long that I just as soon save my money for retirement. I believe the best way to work on anything is not to be so hung up on a position and to work toward finding a solution that benefits everyone. I realize that we live in a time where seeking middle ground is unpopular in that you are either extremely Right or extremely Left and to sit down and come to a middle ground is seen as a weakness. I have been to Los Angeles many times and I see where smog is a real issue and yes you are correct that many of the poor drive the older polluting vehicles. Los Angeles, New York City, Houston, and Chicago are more affected by smog than much smaller metropolitan areas and rural areas.

    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on Jun 22, 2019

      Jeff S, I understand. I grew up in Southern California, mostly from Huntington Beach south all the way to Imperial Beach in San Diego, at one time or another. So I have seen the changes that have taken place in the automotive world as well as the smog of the real world. And you are right, the automotive relics of the past have been supplanted by the current modern conveyances we choose to drive.

  • Danddd Chicago at night is crazy traveling in and out from the 'burbs. Taking the Ike back home around midnight and you'll see racers swerving by at 100mph plus. Dangerous enough we rarely go down there anymore. I plan my city trips between 9:30AM and back out by 1PM to miss the worst traffic.
  • SCE to AUX Good summary, Matt.I like EVs, but not bans, subsidies, or carbon credits. Let them find their own level.PM Sunak has done a good thing, but I'm surprised at how sensibly early he made the call. Hopefully they'll ban the ban altogether.
  • SCE to AUX "Having spoken to plenty of suppliers over the years, many have told me they tried to adapt to EV production only to be confronted with inconsistent orders."Lofty sales predictions followed by reality.I once worked (very briefly) for a key supplier to Segway, back when "Ginger" was going to change the world. Many suppliers like us tooled up to support sales in the millions, only to sell thousands - and then went bankrupt.
  • SCE to AUX "all-electric vehicles, resulting in a scenario where automakers need fewer traditional suppliers"Is that really true? Fewer traditional suppliers, but they'll be replaced with other suppliers. You won't have the myriad of parts for an internal combustion engine and its accessories (exhaust, sensors), but you still have gear reducers (sometimes two or three), electric motors with lots of internal components, motor mounts, cooling systems, and switchgear.Battery packs aren't so simple, either, and the fire recalls show that quality control is paramount.The rest of the vehicle is pretty much the same - suspension, brakes, body, etc.
  • Theflyersfan As crazy as the NE/Mid-Atlantic I-95 corridor drivers can be, for the most part they pay attention and there aren't too many stupid games. I think at times it's just too crowded for that stuff. I've lived all over the US and the worst drivers are in parts of the Midwest. As I've mentioned before, Ohio drivers have ZERO lane discipline when it comes to cruising, merging, and exiting. And I've just seen it in this area (Louisville) where many drivers have literally no idea how to merge. I've never seen an area where drivers have no problems merging onto an interstate at 30 mph right in front of you. There are some gruesome wrecks at these merge points because it looks like drivers are just too timid to merge and speed up correctly. And the weaving and merging at cloverleaf exits (which in this day and age need to all go away) borders on comical in that no one has a bloody clue of let car merge in, you merge right to exit, and then someone repeats behind you. That way traffic moves. Not a chance here.And for all of the ragging LA drivers get, I found them just fine. It's actually kind of funny watching them rearrange themselves like after a NASCAR caution flag once traffic eases up and they line up, speed up to 80 mph for a few miles, only to come to a dead halt again. I think they are just so used to the mess of freeways and drivers that it's kind of a "we'll get there when we get there..." kind of attitude.