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.”
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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