An auto industry trade association and seven red states are throwing their weight behind the Trump administration in the legal fight over California’s clean cars program.
The Association of Global Automakers, a powerful trade association whose members include General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, yesterday filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the Trump administration in a lawsuit over whether California should have the legal authority to set tougher greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars than the federal government.
John Bozzella, president and CEO of Global Automakers, said the trade association intervened in the litigation to help preserve "one national program," a term that refers to harmonized clean car standards between California and the federal government.
"Since 2010, America has had a unified fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions program that has improved vehicle fuel efficiency, reduced emissions and provided regulatory certainty," Bozzella said on a call with reporters yesterday evening.
"Recent federal and California rulemakings threaten to upend this balanced approach, creating uncertainty for consumers, auto workers, retailers and manufacturers," he said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, is proposing to preempt California from setting the tougher rules under the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act.
Environmental groups, led by the Environmental Defense Fund, argue that California’s standards have been a critical tool in the fight against climate change while saving consumers money at the gas pump.
Due to a dispute over the proper venue for the case, titled Environmental Defense Fund v. Chao, green groups have filed lawsuits in both the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Bozzella, an auto industry veteran who previously served as a senior executive at Chrysler Group, framed the motion to intervene as a last resort.
"While we had hoped to avoid this outcome, we believe that it is the best way to achieve a solution that works for all stakeholders," he said.
Honda Motor Co. did not participate in the motion to intervene, exposing a rift among Global Automakers’ member companies.
Honda, which has invested heavily in hybrid and electric vehicles, was one of four other car companies that signed a voluntary deal with California this summer to improve fuel efficiency (Greenwire, July 25).
"Honda is not a participant in this litigation, and is not contributing any funds supporting our trade association’s activity in this area," Robert Bienenfeld, assistant vice president at American Honda Motor Co., said in an email to E&E News.
"We have been very clear on wanting to avoid lengthy and costly litigation on this issue, which will result in a great deal of regulatory uncertainty," Bienenfeld added. "This uncertainty influenced our business decision to lock in vehicle greenhouse gas standards through model year 2026."
Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, blasted Global Automakers for backing the administration.
"To say I’m disappointed is an understatement, especially given the number of times these companies have told me personally that they wish to avoid costly litigation and regulatory uncertainty," Carper said in a statement last night.
"By aligning themselves with this administration’s reckless and illegal proposal, these companies are actively challenging the rights of states to set their own emissions standards and tackle the climate crisis," he added. "Instead of choosing the responsible path forged by four automakers and the state of California … these companies have chosen to head down a dead-end road."
Red states join the fray
In addition to Global Automakers, seven states with Republican governors also filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the Trump administration last week.
The states — Ohio, Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Texas, Utah and West Virginia — argued that California should not be granted "special status" to set its own vehicle emissions standards.
"The Intervening States have an interest in a Rule that restores the equal status of all States by blocking the effects of California’s special status," the states wrote in their filing with the D.C. Circuit. "The Supreme Court has long held that ‘the States in the Union are coequal sovereigns under the Constitution.’"
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said it was problematic that under Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, 13 states and D.C. had adopted California’s tailpipe pollution rules.
"No single State has the authority to create standards and regulations for other States, and the idea that California can legislate for the entire country clearly undermines state sovereignty," Paxton said in a statement.
‘Not what this is about’
The motions from Global Automakers and red states only address NHTSA’s proposal to block California’s vehicle emissions standards. They do not address other aspects of the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era clean car rules.
While NHTSA is proposing to preempt California under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, EPA is proposing to withdraw California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases, which enshrines the state’s legal authority to set the tougher tailpipe pollution benchmarks.
In addition, the two agencies are seeking to weaken vehicle fuel economy standards through 2026, rather than increasing their stringency each year as President Obama had envisioned.
Bozzella, the CEO of Global Automakers, stressed that the trade association continues to support "year-over-year increases in fuel economy" but has not yet taken a formal position on that aspect of the rollback.
"We haven’t reached the question of which side we’re taking with regard to the stringency of the [fuel economy] standards," he said.
"That’s not what this is about."