Trump administration confirms it has ended fuel-economy talks with California

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FEBRUARY 22, 2019

The 405 Freeway traffic at South La Tijera Boulevard in Los Angeles, mid-day on August 2, 2018. – Al Seib/LA Times/TNS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Already-faltering negotiations between the Trump administration and California aimed at resolving a dispute over fuel-economy standards have broken down completely, the White House said Thursday.

“The Trump administration has decided to discontinue discussions” with the California Air Resources Board about the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to scale back the standards, the White House said in a statement.

The board had been meeting sporadically with officials from the White House, EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in hopes of persuading them not to roll back the Obama-era regulations.

Both sides blamed the other for the breakdown in talks.

“Despite the administration’s best efforts to reach a common-sense solution, it is time to acknowledge that CARB has failed to put forward a productive alternative,” the White House statement said. “Accordingly, the administration is moving forward to finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles.”

California officials said the Trump administration’s efforts to reach a compromise were less than genuine.

“It would be fair to say the negotiations never really began in the first place,” said California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young. “We had several meetings, but nothing that was meaningful was discussed.”

The end of the negotiations increases the likelihood that both sides will spend years fighting in the courts over car pollution standards.

Under former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency announced plans last year to relax fuel economy and tailpipe emission rules that were designed to cut down on planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles already rank among the major contributors to climate change. The standards were aimed at getting the nation’s cars and trucks to average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

Under Trump, the EPA has said it is considering freezing the fuel-efficiency targets at 2020 levels.

The EPA has also threatened to take away California’s unique authority to set its own, stricter air pollution standards for vehicles – something the state has been empowered to do since the enactment of the Clean Air Act in 1970.

California vowed to fight back. The state has sued the Trump administration over the proposed fuel-economy rollback and officials have said they will go to court again if the administration requires them to follow its lower standards.

But the administration’s plans to undo federal fuel-efficiency targets won’t just affect California. More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s rules. Together, they account for nearly 40 percent of all new vehicles sold in the U.S.

As a result of the administration’s decision to abandon negotiations, car makers could find themselves in a regulatory nightmare in which they have to produce different vehicles for a divided U.S. market – one class of cars that would meet the Trump administration’s scaled-back standard and cleaner vehicles for California and the states that follow its regulations.

Although auto makers initially pushed the Trump administration to loosen standards, the aggressiveness of the administration’s planned rollback took them by surprise. Several have since made it clear they believe the proposal goes too far, but they have so far failed to persuade the EPA and Transportation Department to take a more moderate approach.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group, released a statement Thursday saying that it supports “year-over-year improvements in fuel economy that align with the marketplace.” The group encouraged the Trump administration to find a way to maintain a single national standard.

Hopes for a compromise were dim from the start.

Although the Trump administration and California officials met several times over the course of months, officials familiar with the talks told The Times that they were so unproductive that they could hardly be considered negotiations.

Administration officials didn’t respond to their California counterparts’ proposals, repeatedly steered the conversation to small talk, and kept federal employees with technical expertise out of the discussions, according to officials briefed on discussions.

On Wednesday, as news outlets began publish reports that talks had ended, Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, called on auto makers to pressure the Trump administration into returning to the negotiating table.

“Litigation is not the best option here,” Carper said in a statement. “It wastes time, money, creates uncertainty for American automakers and harms the environment. I encourage automakers to speak out quickly, loudly and clearly against this decision.”


Courtesy/Source: LA Times

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