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White House Rejects Carmaker Plea for California Pact on Emissions

June 7, 2019
The state has special authority under the federal Clean Air Act to enact more stringent vehicle emissions rules and officials have said they will fight any efforts to weaken protections.

The White House is rejecting a bid from domestic and foreign automakers to restart talks with California over vehicle emission regulations.

A group of 17 auto manufacturers sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday warning that failing to reach a unified national standard could destabilize the industry and hamper investment. The carmakers -- including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.’s U.S. subsidiary -- made the plea less than a month after California’s top environmental regulator threatened to enact much tougher pollution rules.

White House spokesman Judd Deere, responding to the letter on Friday, said the California Air Resource Board “failed to put forward a productive alternative, and we are moving forward to finalize a rule with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles.”

The administration has been developing a final plan for easing tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions standards and fuel economy requirements that is expected to be issued within months. California is critical, because its own emissions rules are adhered to by a dozen other states -- a bloc that accounts for more than a third of U.S. auto sales.

Automakers wrote to Trump in a last-minute attempt to get the administration to resume negotiations with California.

“We encourage both the federal government and California to resume discussions and to remain open to regulatory adjustments that provide the flexibility needed to meet future environmental goals and respond to consumer needs,” the automakers said. They added that a unified standard that achieves “year-over-year improvements in fuel economy” while facilitating the adoption of alternative vehicles would “enhance our ability to invest and innovate by avoiding an extended period of litigation and instability.”

The group sent a similar letter Thursday to California Governor Gavin Newsom, calling on him to resume negotiations with the federal government toward reaching a compromise.

Newsom’s office and the Air Resources Board couldn’t be reached for comment.

The state has special authority under the federal Clean Air Act to enact more stringent vehicle emissions rules and officials have said they will fight any efforts to weaken protections.

In May, CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols said if the Trump administration moves to relax standards California may take drastic measures, including banning internal combustion engines.

Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, noted the late timing of the automakers’ appeal. Carmakers “want the administration to strike a deal with California,” he said. But “we are now in the eleventh hour, and I fear it won’t be long before the rubber meets the road and the administration’s reckless rollback is finalized.”

An Environmental Protection Agency spokesman referred questions about the automakers’ letter to the White House.

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