Newsom calls Trump’s effort to scuttle California’s auto emission standards ‘pathetic’

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday said President Trump was trying to roll back California’s strict vehicle emissions standards to help the oil industry.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday accused President Trump of trying to scuttle California’s strict car emissions standards to help the oil industry, calling it a “pathetic” decision disguised as a way to assist automobile manufacturers.

Newsom’s comments came less than a month after California state officials worked to circumvent the Trump administration’s efforts to relax tailpipe pollution regulations by reaching a deal with four major automakers to gradually strengthen fuel-efficiency standards.

“This was a big blow to the Trump administration, what we were able to accomplish, and I don’t think they saw it coming,” Newsom told reporters at a conservation summit at Lake Tahoe with leaders from California and Nevada. “This idea that they’re helping the automobile manufacturers, that’s just been blown up, a complete myth. It was made up.”

The New York Times reported that after the announcement of the deal, a Trump advisor called officials from Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors to the White House to urge them to support the president’s emissions policy.

Newsom criticized the president for trying to impose his will on private industry, saying it was a strong-arm tactic expected in “crackpot, Third World countries” and not the United States.

“This is pathetic and it shows the weakness of the administration,” Newsom said. “No one wants [Trump’s mileage policy] except the oil companies. And what a sad, pathetic state of affairs that they’re the ones calling the shots.”


A White House official said the president’s policy will save Americans money and make vehicles safer, adding that the White House attempted to work with California leaders when crafting a new policy, but that the state did not attempt to negotiate in good faith.

The voluntary deal between the California Air Resources Board and automakers Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW covers about a third of the new cars and SUVs sold in the U.S. Under the agreement, the four automakers agreed to produce cars that must reach a minimum of about 50 mpg by 2026.

Newsom also confirmed a New York Times’ report that Mercedes-Benz is about to join the agreement with California and said state officials are in discussions with another major automaker.

Newsom said it showed that automakers, which had supported relaxing emission standards just a few years ago, now realize that producing high-mileage cars was a necessity to keep pace with competing automobile manufacturers in China, India and across the globe.

The pact marks a major strategic victory for California in its fight with the Trump administration over tailpipe pollution and efforts to combat climate change.

The Trump administration‘s policy would freeze miles-per-gallon targets after 2020, a rollback that its own calculations show would increase daily gas consumption across the United States by about 500,000 barrels a day, worsening greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to the rise in global temperatures.

When Trump announced the rollback of mileage standards in 2017, he told workers at a vehicle testing facility outside Detroit that his administration was making “common-sense changes” and would lift up the American auto industry and its workers. He told workers at a vehicle testing facility outside Detroit in 2017 that “we are going to ensure that any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs.”


Since Trump’s election in 2016, California’s state officials have filed more than 50 lawsuits over the administration‘s actions on a variety of issues, including more than two dozen challenges to policies proposed by the EPA, the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies responsible for setting energy and fuel-efficiency standards. Just last week, California joined a coalition of 21 other states suing to block the Trump administration’s attempt to gut restrictions on coal-burning power plants.

“We’re just in a completely unprecedented and different moment in our history, but will continue to fight back and punch above our weight and build partnerships and collaborations,” Newsom said.

Newsom was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s Lake Tahoe Summit, an annual event first held 23 years ago when leaders in California and Nevada became alarmed that the lake’s water was clouding up.

The event was hosted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), and speakers included Nevada’s Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak, and one of the state’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Catherine Cortez Masto. Reps. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) and Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) also spoke at the event.

Feinstein struck a bipartisan tone when she opened the summit, saying efforts to restore Lake Tahoe’s once crystal-clear waters have been successful in recent years because Democrats and Republicans worked together.

In 2016, Feinstein and former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) joined with their Senate counterparts in Nevada at the time, Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Dean Heller, in a successful effort to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, bringing $415 million over seven years to protect Lake Tahoe from pollutants and invasive species, as well as to help restore the health of the surrounding forests and reduce the risk of wildfire.

“It has to be bipartisan. It’s not going to work if you fragment and you fight,” Feinstein said. “People are now working together.”

Times staff writer Anna M. Phillips contributed to this report.