Talks over clean car rules sour

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 29, 2018

California isn’t getting what it wants in talks with the Trump administration over clean car rules.

Automakers want officials from California, EPA and the Transportation Department to reach a deal to avoid two sets of standards, but the parties are taking different approaches to the talks.

The result is likely to be an extended court battle and regulatory uncertainty that could outlast President Trump’s time in office.

Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, slammed the Wednesday meeting she had with representatives from the White House, EPA and the Transportation Department on Twitter.

“Sounds like a great meeting based on the WH press release,” she wrote. “Too bad it’s not the one we attended.”

The White House described the meeting as “productive.”

“We are fully supportive of an open dialogue that proceeds in an expedited manner,” the statement from the White House said. “USDOT and EPA look forward to moving ahead on a joint proposed rule and receiving practical and productive feedback from all stakeholders.”

Trump told EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to find a deal with California following a meeting with automakers this month.

Now, federal regulators are putting the final touches on a proposal that would require feedback on a suite of options rolling back the Obama-era targets for model years 2022 to 2025.

The preferred option would freeze fuel economy at 2020 levels and attack California’s authority to set its own, potentially more stringent rules.

California officials want to be involved in writing the rules before they are published. They were much more involved under the Obama administration, which struck a historic deal in 2009 with automakers and the Golden State to increase fuel economy.

But federal regulators haven’t shared documents with California. They are sending their proposal to the White House for review soon. It wouldn’t be final until next year.

That ups the chances California will take the battle to the courts. The Golden State and its allies have already sued EPA over its intention to lower the rules and have promised to sue again to protect the Obama-era level of stringency.

Nichols has offered a compromise in which federal regulators extend the rules to 2030 while giving automakers some increased flexibilities to help with compliance.

“To quote the President on cancelling his planned summit with Kim Jong-un, ‘If and when (@USDOT & @EPA) choose to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am ready,'” Nichols wrote on Twitter.

Stanley Young, a CARB spokesman, said Trump officials and Nichols “agreed to have additional meetings in the future.”

Nichols also held a separate meeting with the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers and Global Automakers in Washington, D.C., this week. That suggests California and the automakers may seek to strike a deal independently of the Trump administration.

“It’s important that we maintain an open dialogue with all stakeholders as we work through the rulemaking process,” the trade lobbies said in a joint statement. “As we have often stated, automakers support continuous, year-over-year improvements in fuel economy but future standards must account for marketplace realities.”