While embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt fulminates about limiting California’s authority to set its own standards for vehicle fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions, his department is pursuing “active and ongoing” negotiations to preserve the regulation Pruitt is hell-bent on undercutting.
“Officials from the Trump administration and California, along with representatives of major automakers, are searching for a compromise that could save a uniform set of standards for the entire country, according to a half-dozen people briefed on recent communications among the parties,” the New York Times reports.
“Though California’s authority is considered to be on solid legal footing, a protracted legal fight would raise the prospect of uncertainty and a domestic auto market split between the states that follow stricter emissions rules—California and 12 other coastal states that adhere to its standards—and the ones that would allow for dirtier cars.”
An eventual deal could involve the U.S. retaining the Obama-era federal standards through 2025, but giving automakers more flexibility to meet the targets. “In exchange, the Trump administration would commit to honouring California’s authority to set stricter standards through 2030, which could set the tone for federal standards for those five additional years,” the Times reports.
“People briefed on the matter said officials at the California Air Resources Board were amenable to the 2030 compromise, even as they coordinated with the state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, who was preparing a legal challenge in case the talks collapsed.”
Other compromise scenarios could also emerge, writes reporter Hiroko Tabuchi, as the EPA, the White House, and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “start to better coordinate their strategies, something they have so far had trouble doing, according to people close to the negotiations.”
Automakers are open to a compromise, the Times reports, and the White House is said to be pushing the EPA toward a middle ground. “The White House, this person said, is more in tune with concerns from some automakers who feel the rollbacks they lobbied for have triggered an overzealous response from the EPA, bringing the federal government to the brink of a battle with California that could throw the entire auto market into disarray.”
But Pruitt, for as long as he remains in office, “has been a wild card, eager to score a clear victory in dismantling environmental regulations. In one sign of his zeal—and his apparent disconnect with the position of the auto industry—he has openly described the planned rewriting of auto emissions standards as a ‘rollback,’ much to the chagrin of auto lobbyists who have long said that formulation does not accurately describe the changes they are seeking.”
When Pruitt’s senior clean air advisor, William Wehrum, met with California Air Resources Board Chair Mary D. Nichols last week, one California source described the talks as “highly non-substantive”, but still saw scope for compromise. A Trump administrative source called the meeting “productive”, the Times states.
“Clearly, the Trump administration has gained some political capital by looking really tough on this and proposing a reversal of the Obama-era standards,” said University of Michigan public policy professor Barry Rabe. “But the Trump administration has also gotten out beyond what the auto industry has wanted throughout, which is substantial flexibility in meeting these standards.”