Auto Emission Talks Between White House and California Break Down

Already-faltering negotiations between the Trump administration and California aimed at resolving a dispute over fuel-economy standards have broken down completely, according to a top Democratic lawmaker.

By Anna M. Phillips

Already-faltering negotiations between the Trump administration and California aimed at resolving a dispute over fuel-economy standards have broken down completely, according to a top Democratic lawmaker.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said Wednesday that the Trump administration confirmed that its talks with California about the EPA's plans to scale back the standards were over.

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

"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."

California officials blamed the Trump administration, saying its 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."

Officials at the EPA did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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 said it would consider freezing the Obama-era targets at 2020 levels.

The EPA 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.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted California's rules, accounting for nearly 40% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S., according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit group.

The California Air Resources Board had been meeting sporadically with officials from the White House, Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in hopes of persuading them not to roll back the regulations.

The goal was to avoid a lengthy legal battle that would leave automakers subject to conflicting regulations.

Car makers could find themselves having 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.

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.

(c)2019 the Los Angeles Times

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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