The self-described master dealmaker currently occupying the White House took a step back Friday, instructing his administration to negotiate its proposed rollback of Obama-era tailpipe emission standards after a meeting with major automakers.
Donald Trump’s directive “grants a reprieve to automakers, who lobbied for a relaxation of rules aimed at cutting tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide—a major contributor to global warming—but in recent weeks became increasingly nervous that the zealousness of the proposed rollbacks would provoke a battle with California,” the New York Times reports. The White House concession “could avert a damaging court battle with the potential to sow chaos in the auto industry.”
California “has vowed to disregard any rollbacks and stick to its own stricter emissions standards,” the Times notes, and it’s not at all clear that there’s room for compromise. Given the extreme position espoused by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, it remains to be seen whether any negotiations would be “a good-faith engagement or for show,” said David Friedman, Obama-era acting administrator of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
That suspicion was reinforced by one of Pruitt’s staunchest allies.
“I hope [Trump] realizes that there really is no way to do a deal with California,” said Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the climate denier who led the Trump transition team for the EPA. “As long as they’re part of this, they’re going to drive the process.” Ebell recently suggested automakers were suffering “Stockholm Syndrome” on the tailpipe emissions issue and required “therapy” to recover.
“This is a case of be careful what you wish for,” said Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis at automotive research agency Edmunds.com. “At the start, it seemed like a great win for automakers. But California’s really digging in their heels.”
A senior administration official told the Times that at least one auto executive suggested ways for Washington to maximize its leverage in talks with the Golden State. But ultimately, the paper says, “automakers hope to head off a wider legal battle which could plunge the American auto industry into regulatory chaos, with California and 12 other states that follow its lead imposing a stricter set of fuel economy rules than the rest of the country.”