Trump Stone Cold Rolling Coal On California, Other States That Don't Suck
Donald Trump's agenda of undoing everything Barack Obama ever touched isn't exactly making him the most popular guy with automakers. Manufacturers weren't thrilled by the prospect of meeting Obama's increased fuel efficiency standards, but at least the rules were clear, and applied nationwide. But when Team Trump decided to ditch those higher standards, because global warming isn't real (and efficient cars kill people!), a whole bunch of blue states said screw this, we're keeping the higher standards, like California is. And that coming two-standard market, reports the New York Times, has automakers in a tizzy.
The new rules aren't written yet, but the basics of the plan are pretty much set, according to two anonymous insiders who spoke with the Times:
The new rules would all but eliminate the Obama-era restrictions, essentially freezing standards at about 37 miles per gallon, compared to 54.5 miles per gallon required by the current rules. The policy makes it a near-certainty that California and 13 other states, collectively representing roughly one-third of the United States auto market, will keep enforcing the stricter rules, splitting the national auto market in two.
This would mean all sorts of headaches for the auto industry, which had quite enough to juggle when it was simply making lower-emission cars for California and then selling standard versions of all other vehicles to the rest of the country. And since the Obama standards require a five percent improvement in efficiency each year, and the Trump standards are likely to settle for a piddling one percent improvement per year, the differences between the standards will only get wider and wider. Here's a nutty idea: How about manufacturers plan to meet the Obama standards anyway, because it's the right thing for the planet and because Trump is a freakish outlier, regulation-wise?
With a third of the market mandating higher efficiency, and those states dotted around the map, things could get weird very fast:
"We could see a scenario where there are limited choices for consumers in the high-fuel-economy states, or a stampede at the border to buy cars in the states that follow the federal standards," said Gloria Bergquist, a vice president at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
In that case, Ms. Bergquist said, states with stricter standards might have to create new rules against buying cars from other states. "Because this is all such new territory, no one's quite sure how this is going to work," she said. "We're trying to figure it out. But it's going to be a headache."
California, the article notes, already has "border laws" requiring that new vehicles bought elsewhere pass California smog tests.
The marketplace could become chaotic quite quickly, especially as the two sets of standards more sharply diverge:
[The] challenge for automakers will come specifically in figuring out how to sell a radically different mix of cars in different states. For example, in states like California, automakers would have to demonstrate that the average mileage of all the cars they sell is much higher (about 54 miles per gallon by 2025) than in states like Utah, where the new Trump standard of about 38 miles per gallon would be in effect.
But because Americans have shown a growing preference for SUVs over thriftier vehicles like electrics, manufacturers might have to significantly cut prices on electric vehicles in the high-mileage states, a potentially money-losing proposition for them, while raising the prices of gas-guzzlers.
And then there's the prospect that manufacturers might be sued by cleaner states if large numbers of dirtier vehicles get bought across state lines.
We also learn that automakers are torn, the poor things, about where their loyalties should lie. The Trump position would suck for their business model, but opposing the new standards and supporting California and the cleaner states might piss off the big baby, who could start another front in the trade war, because tariffs are all he knows.
"They will have to choose between Trump and California," said Margo T. Oge, a former senior E.P.A. official who works on auto pollution policy issues.
"If you go with Trump, it solves the short-term temper tantrum and the threat of trade wars on the horizon," she said. "But that is also taking a big legal risk. Because in the long term, California could win the legal fight to keep its state standards. Trump is right now, but California is forever."
From the get-go, the Trump emissions plan envisioned banning states from setting higher efficiency standards than the federal ones, but of course if Team Trump tries that, California and the other states are geared up to sue just as soon as the new rules are published, because the Hell You Say.
The fact that the new regulations aren't yet ready adds one more worry for the car companies to juggle. The Times notes that the rules are unlikely to be ready until late spring or early summer, and that makes the timing of the inevitable lawsuits very interesting: The case might not actually reach the Supreme Court until after the 2020 election, by which time a new sane Democratic administration might decide not to defend the rules at all. And then maybe the auto industry can return to griping that it can't possibly meet the revived Obama standards.
Either way, we can safely predict some asshole in a big pickup will spew diesel soot all over a bicyclist and laugh, laugh, laugh.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.