By on October 29, 2019

Ford Motor Co, Honda Motor Co, BMW Group and Volkswagen AG announced a voluntary deal with California in July — drawing a line in the sand for who they’ll be supporting in the fueling fracas taking place between the Golden State and White House. Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s rollback proposal — which intends on freezing automotive emission standards at 2020 levels through 2026 — saw no such support. But the cavalry seems to have finally arrived after sitting on the sidelines during the battle’s opening maneuvers.

General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Kia, and Subaru all sided against California in a filing with a U.S. appeals court from Monday night. While they’re not setting any economy targets, they are collectively firm on the issue of the state’s ability to self regulate. A large portion of the industry wants a single national standard, not individual states setting their own benchmarks while they attempt to catch up with product. 

In their filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the automakers and the National Automobile Dealers Association cooperatively supported the administration’s bid to bar individual emissions rules by states.

John Bozzella, president and chief executive of Global Automakers, explained that automakers had few other options. “It’s been the federal policy for the better part of 40 years that the federal government has the sole responsibility for regulating fuel economy standards, but it doesn’t have to get to that,” Bozzella told reporters, speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation. “We can still reach an agreement [on fuel economy].”

Bozzella added that the Trump administration had not asked the automakers to intervene or take sides and that automakers were still open to efficiency compromises between California, its supporting states, and the federal government.

A spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told Reuters that the court filing “doesn’t change our resolve to fight as long and hard as necessary to protect our standards.” She added, “The courts have upheld our authority to set standards before and we’re hopeful they will yet again.”

As you might have expected, the backlash has already begun. “Instead of choosing the responsible path forged by four automakers and the state of California, one that will move us toward the cleaner, alternative fuel vehicles of the future, these companies have chosen to head down a dead-end road,” said Senator Tom Carper, the top Democrat for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Mary D. Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, was similarly displeased. “We are disappointed in the Association of Global Automakers for hiding behind the Trump administration’s skirts and its assault on public health,” she said in a statement. “[California will] keep working with those automakers committed to a framework that delivers cleaner vehicles that benefit consumers and the environment.”

Of course, the conflict goes back months. California is currently suing the Environmental Protection Agency on several issues, including the proposal to kill its fuel waiver, and other coalitions have gotten in on the fun while U.S. states have begun picking sides.

From Reuters:

A group of major environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council, sued in September to block the determination.

On Friday, seven U.S. states, including Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Utah and West Virginia, also filed in support of the Trump regulation, arguing that without the rule their residents would have to pay “higher vehicle costs.”

While EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has suggested the rollback could actually shore up some weak spots it sees in the Obama-era rules, environmental groups are unconvinced. That’s probably with good reason. Most of the rollback’s presumed benefits revolve around having more vehicle choices for consumers, maintaining jobs, and keeping costs down. Environmentalism plays second (or third) fiddle to what the Trump administration sees as prudent for the U.S. economy.

Meanwhile, its opposition is singularly focused on maximizing MPG and adopting EVs by any means necessary. This movement has created some short-sighted (but long-term) proposals that could create more waste before their benefits can be realized. Some of the timelines may not mesh with the realities of America’s infrastructure or economy either. But it’s all for an important cause and could spur on new technologies and higher-paying jobs.

Honestly, we expected the industry to stay more-or-less united on the issue while partisanship made a mess of things in the government. This is probably going to surprise you but Democrats and Republicans haven’t been cooperating well on the issue — now the auto industry itself is totally split on the matter.

 

[Image: Siripatv/Shutterstock]

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46 Comments on “Battle Lines Are Being Drawn in America’s Gas War...”


  • avatar
    Urlik

    …not that the deal the four made with California actually requires them to meet any kind of targets. It was just a deal on principle and met nothing but favorable press for the automakers and California.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      We’re inclined to agree and noted that the voluntary agreement with California doesn’t hold the automaker’s to much of anything in our previous coverage. However, Honda has been pretty clear that it still plans on adhering to the Cali standards and has actively been trying to distance itself from the Association of Global Automakers’ latest move.

      • 0 avatar
        Urlik

        I agree that I learned that in your prior coverage. :D Good for Honda but their product mix makes it relatively easy to do. If sedan sales keep crashing forcing them to make big changes in their product mix, they may have to give up that goal.

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          Absolutely. Corporate promises are never to be counted on. But it’s interesting that Honda is even bothering to take a stand it can walk back in a few years.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Well, you can call it a gas war, but the core issue is state vs. federal power. The basis of California’s authority to set auto emissions is a waiver from the federal government.

    That puts the state on shaky legal ground, along with the fact that amost all cars sold in California came from other states or countries, triggering the primacy of the federal government via the commerce clause.

    California did itself no favors by negotiating a cap and trade scheme with the province of Quebec, bypassing both the US and Canadian governments. That power was yielded by the state to the federal government on admission to the Union.

    Regardless of the environmental merits, California has overstepped it’s legal authority.

    • 0 avatar
      Lokki

      I agree with Lorenzo. I am a believer in States’ Rights, but being a general follower of constitutional requirements, I also feel that this is a classic case of the reasoning that led to the Interstate Commerce Act. Legally California should not be allowed to set their own standards.

      Certainly, there was reasonable justification for special California exemption back in the 70’s, and thus they were given such. Were their separate standards successful I might agree with an extension. However, we have not seen that and
      California’s request (demand?) to continue its exemption is not helped by their “Talk Big and not do much” history.

      I am sure there will be those who feel that the EPA pointing out the facts stated [the extract below] in their letter to California is the result of political bias, but one could equally argue that not bringing up the problems in the past was also and equally the result of political bias.

      “ EPA has made reviewing and approving or disapproving of SIPs a priority to meet its goal of providing regulatory certainty with regard to Clean Air Act implementation. This is particularly relevant for SIPs, which provide important air quality benefits to impacted communities. California’s extensive backlog is due to approvability issues, state-requested holds, missing information, or resources. California has the worst air quality in the United States, with 82 nonattainment areas and 34 million people living in areas that do not meet NAAQS—more than twice as many people as any other state in the country.“

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        ” I am a believer in States’ Rights”

        unless it’s California. Or if a state wants to do anything you don’t agree with.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          All states must adhere to the federal constitution. State constitutions must be submitted to Congress as part of its admission to the union, and must be changed if it’s not in conformance with the federal constitution.

          Lokki above has one thing wrong – there is no Interstate Commerce Act. That would be an ordinary statute. the Commerce Clause is part of the original Constitution, enumerating the powers of Congress.

          It’s Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3: “[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”.

          States have many sovereign rights, but they yielded several sovereign rights to the Federal government on admission to the union.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Some teachers have some serious explaining to do relating to the complete ignorance of the constitution displayed by defenders of California’s actions.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “you can call it a gas war, but the core issue is state vs. federal power.”

      Exactly!

      CA and other states want to have sovereignty over the quality of the air in their states but fail to consider that the pollution is blowing into their states from elsewhere, like from across the Pacific, from Asia and South Asia.

      No matter how much America does to achieve clean air, the rest of the world pollutes our air negating any clean air standards we may have. Remember Chernobyl?

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      CA is turning into a high tech Venezuela where sidewalks are paved w/ poop

      CA is not the answer it’s the punchline, they have just about the worst political class in the US who eff up everything they touch

      didn’t those geniuses just outlaw the ICE? show how high speed rail shouldn’t be done? and made electricity as reliable as in banana republics?

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Have you actually been to California, or are you just reciting what Fox News told you?

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          I lived there for a decade, moving out in December of 2015 and have visited since. Nobody has ever said anything worse than the truth about California. There are some exceptionally myopic sociopaths who don’t see what they don’t want to.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            I was in San Francisco earlier this month and saw no evidence of a “high-tech Venezuela.” I didn’t even see any poop on the street, although I know it happens, mostly because local NIMBYs won’t allow any public toilets to be built anywhere (or any housing where people might have private toilets, for that matter).

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            They had public toilets, but they shut them down when they became health hazards due to the homeless population you were untroubled by. Newsflash, that wasn’t a tent expo that you maintained your oblivious stance towards.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          dal20402, Isn’t your question to thornmark a little harsh considering the number of former California residents who have un-assed the state in favor of another state, much to the chagrin of that other state’s residents?

          I was born there, but I’ll never go back there to live. And two of my brothers have cashed out of CA and moved to Ensenada, BC, Old Mexico.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            I know a lot of people who left California; it’s impossible to avoid in Washington. Every single one I know left because of high housing costs, because no local cities will permit construction of any significant amount of new housing. I think almost all of them would move back if they could afford places to live. Still no evidence of a “high-tech Venezuela.”

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            This is Washington STATE? Or Washington, DC?

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Washington state. Seattle at this point is basically a refuge for tech workers who couldn’t afford San Francisco or Silicon Valley housing prices.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Oh yeah. I’m very familiar with Seattle, Kent-Desmoines, Poulsbo, Olalla, and other areas around Seattle.

            My sister had a real estate business there for more than three decades, and still owns property in Kent-Desmoines, Poulsbo, and Olalla. Her kids now run the business. She cashed out and gets monthly residuals from rentals.

            She has moved to Vancouver, BC, to live with her (long-time) Canadian husband. But for many, many years, they had dual residences. (BTW, he LOVES American Health Care – no muss, no fuss, no waiting in line.)

            Great area. Very green.

            Too wet and too cool for me though.

        • 0 avatar
          thornmark

          said the drone

          I’ve been going to CA for decades and can see the decline – news reports merely affirm it

          the state is gorgeous but the insane people that lead it have been wrecking it, leading to the first mass exodus since it became a state

          • 0 avatar

            I live one hour drive from SF but avoid it as a plague. There is nothing good about SF. Dirty and smelly place and you will be harassed on the BART or on the street.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            ILO, “Dirty and smelly place and you will be harassed on the BART or on the street.”

            One of my brothers owned a car dealership and used to live in Oakland, on Clemens Road, so my wife and I used to visit them often and take in the sights, sounds and tastes uniquely SF, like ALL the tourist attractions.

            Things changed.

            But we have fond memories of when times were still good there. Pictures too.

            Even my brother left the area and now resides full-time in Ensenada, BC, Old Mexico.

            I wonder if Nancy Pelosi has a wall around her mansion?

          • 0 avatar

            “I wonder if Nancy Pelosi has a wall around her mansion?”

            I have no doubts. But illegal immigrants, homeless people and drug addicts are not welcomed in those areas. Yes they live in a different world with different rules than common men. And why should not they? They are not stupid.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            ILO, some time ago when homelessness in SF became ‘woke’, my brother, who lived in Oakland at the time, told me that the users of the public bathhouses there became livid when the homeless and the illegals tried to use them, or even gain access to them, or even got near them.

            He told us, it got violent. Yet I never saw any mention of that on the national news.

            Since you live that close, were you aware of the two-class system the public bath houses imposed?

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Dude, I’ve been living in California for 45 years and still do. Thornmark’s comment is accurate. You have to be a hard-left socialist to deny what’s happening.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The left is a cult. They haven’t had reason on their side in living memory, and it takes a toll on the mind. Can you imagine the stress of having to convince yourself that this time the climate change alarmists are telling the truth? They need to constantly stay up to date on which virtues become vices as they consolidate and protect power and which vices become virtues as they destroy society. It’s not a game for the sane, and eventually one becomes what they pretend to be.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I flew into SFO in 2004, stayed for a week around Stockton and took a trip to El Dorado county and Lake Tahoe both of which were gorgeous (Stockton wasn’t great then, can only imagine now). Never being west of Ohio I noted several odd things which I had never seen to that point such as hard liquor in the grocery store, “tweakers”, and these small motel like buildings in the country offering “sleeping rooms” for $60/night. I also noted the 1970s daily drivers around and was thrilled to tour a pick-n-pull and help myself to plentiful 70s era Caddy/Lincoln emblems (German stuff less so) and a Cartier clock out of a Conti Mark IV (I also spotted a black Mark VII LSC Special Edition in a parking lot!). I expected to be treated poorly “as not being from around there” which was obvious, but every single person I remember interacting with was at least neutral but I think in most cases were friendly or even warm. Other than the cost being a bit more than I expected (about 30% more for everything) I really liked everything I saw and the people with whom I interacted. I suspect what I spent a week in is long gone and this was the impression I received from some of the people I have interacted with in Las Vegas much more recently.

          Alas, Babylon.

    • 0 avatar
      Snooder

      It’s really not shaky legal ground.

      Nor is it, really, a Constitutional question at this point. The statute that governs national emissions and fuel efficiency standards very clearly and explicitly provides for a mandatory and non-discretionary waiver for California.

      Now, there can be a legal argument about whether the required elements to be granted that waiver are met, but I personally feel that argument tends for more on the side of California, especially given how much the rhetoric from the administration itself has tended to support the California argument.

      I.e., the major case for the government is that the higher standards aren’t necessary and California’s air is good enough without needing to be bolstered by stricter standards. Which is something a competent lawyer could and should argue. But instead, all the stuff coming out of the White House is about how California’s air sucks. Which, yeah, if their air sucks, then under the law, they deserve the waiver.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Waivers can be canceled, based on the proclivities of the administration in power. Elections have consequences.

        BTW, have you seen all the air pollution CA is generating with the fires? Legislation kept homeowners from cutting back their own properties, as were large businesses like PG&E.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    If we are going to standardize nationally on one state’s energy policy, I nominate…

    Alaska. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I don’t know if I’d like Alaska’s house insulation requirements imposed on my house in San Diego – that’s overkill. I’ll go along with the smog inspection – Alaska eliminated theirs.

      Funny, when I was in college in Massachusetts, I had to have my car safety-inspected every six months. The horn, tail lights, headlights, brakes and brake lights, steering and turn signals all had to work, and the tires had to have enough tread. Now they use the California smog test, but require annual inspections, including safety.

      Back in California, the smog is required every two years, but a separate safety inspection isn’t. If the tech can drive your car into the service bay for the smog test, it passed the safety test!

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    CA residents: Pay no attention to that wild fire burning in your back yard. The real threat is climate change from that gas-burning SUV you love.

    – Gavin Newsom

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I hear that Texas is luring away California residents with promises of electricity.

      Since they aren’t going to use all the federal money given to them for forest management designed to stop wildfires to – you know… stop wildfires, they could use that money to add power generation capacity.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        I don’t believe that Texas has to lure away CA residents.

        My observation is they come voluntarily in droves to Texas as part of the mass-migration out of CA. My daughter did in 2013, when she left her husband.

        What’s funny is how so many homeless and illegals in Texas are migrating to CA because of their sanctuary state policies and freebie benefits.

        Remember when Gavin Newsom blamed Texas for CA’s homeless problem? True dat.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Don’t really care what California does at this point. California is going to do what California wants and this fight will be tied up in courts for years.

  • avatar
    GoNavy99

    Let’s not forget: President Trump offered up something (lower standards) that nobody of consequence actually asked for. So what was the rationale there? All evidence points towards pure spite of his predecessor.

    I’m with Jeff S above – given that one party is on weak legal ground (California), while the other is on weak moral ground (Trump), I’m inclined to just watch this die in the courts until a more progressive and conscientious leader can be elected.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      “ that nobody of consequence actually asked for.”

      The American people? You know the consumers that actually have to foot the bill for this ridiculous cash grab.

      Looking out for his countries people seems like he taking the moral high ground here, more power to him – it’s taken a long time to get someone with a spine that actually listens to the people.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The lower standards were for fuel mileage, not emissions. If it weren’t for an arcane system of measurements the automakers can use, the requirement would force them to build only subcompacts with 40 HP engines.

      Reasonable emissions standards can be met with a large variety of cars, vans, crossovers, and trucks. The fuel economy standards, if strictly enforced, would eliminate a wide variety of vehicles the public wants.

    • 0 avatar
      Snooder

      Well, there is one vocal contingent asking for lower mileage standards. The oil industry tycoon who funded Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    “No matter how much America does to achieve clean air, the rest of the world pollutes our air negating any clean air standards we may have. Remember Chernobyl?”
    Yes, I remember Chernobyl, and the Nevada Test Site, and the Rocketdyne reactor meltdowns, and 3 Mile Island, and Hanford Washington, and Rocky Flats Colorado, and so on.

    “I am a believer in States’ Rights”

    unless it’s California. Or if a state wants to do anything you don’t agree with.
    Yep. I note, for many decades, that many of the same people that will argue for “States Rights” about some things, e.g. housing, education, marriage, will call for a “National” (Federal) policy on others, e.g. vehicle emissions and fuel consumption, drugs (prescription and otherwise), immigration.
    Re: The problems that California has are caused/exacerbated by “The Left”. That would be a big discussion, but part of the situation is seen in California’s “Success” (if it was a country it would have the 5th largest economy).
    How did that happen? During, and for several decades after, WWII California got more money from the Federal government than it paid in taxes. Most of this on “defense spending”. That’s how Silicon Valley got it’s start. Computers and the internet were all developed with taxpayer money. Once they became commercially viable private companies took over and made billions.
    Was that “The Left”?
    Was that “Socialism”?
    A lot of that money that used to go to California now goes to Texas, Colorado, Georgia, Alabama, etc.

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