The world is increasingly speeding toward a future of clean, zero-emissions cars. China — the largest auto market on the planet — plans to ban the sale of new vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel engines in the coming decades. Until then, the Chinese government requires that carmakers sell an increasing number of hybrid and electric vehicles in the country each year.
France, Britain, Norway and India have also pledged to phase out fossil fuel vehicles. And automakers have responded. Volvo pledged in 2017 to sell only hybrid or battery models starting next year, while General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, Daimler and other big carmakers have said they will roll out more and more electric models to serve the growing market demand worldwide.
But here in the United States, President Trump and his anti-environmental protection sidekick, Scott Pruitt, are determined to head recklessly in the opposite direction. It’s up to California and other environmentally responsible states to stop them.
On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it has abandoned ambitious but much-needed fuel economy rules that required automakers to step up the improvements in their cars’ and SUVs’ mileage and emissions. Adopted under the Obama administration, the regulations were a crucial piece of the national effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow global climate change.
Indeed, the regulations being heedlessly ditched were slated to improve the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks 50% by 2025, to almost 55 miles per gallon. To meet the new standards, automakers were expected to develop and sell more hybrid and electric models, which, over time, would slash oil consumption, smoggy tailpipe pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
But those benefits apparently carried little weight with Pruitt, , a stalwart shill for the fossil fuel industry, who claims the Obama administration rushed the analysis of whether the regulations were feasible and set the standards too high. That’s mere pretext, given that Pruitt has used his tenure at the EPA to systematically attack responsible, science- and health-based regulations. Nor, apparently, is it enough that he’s weakened national environmental protections; Pruitt has suggested he may go after California’s essential air quality regulations and climate change program as well.
In order to address the enormous contribution cars and trucks make to California’s unusually severe air-quality problems, the federal Clean Air Act gave the state unique power to adopt vehicle emissions rules that are more stringent than the EPA’s. The federal government can block the state rules only if the EPA deems them inconsistent with the Clean Air Act’s efforts to protect public health or welfare. Thankfully, Gov. Jerry Brown and state leaders have made it clear that California is not rolling back its clean-car rules. Other states can follow California’s lead on tailpipe standards, and a dozen states, representing about one-third of the U.S. auto market, have said they will continue to do so.
That would leave manufacturers with two options. They could go the costly route of making two versions of each vehicle: A more fuel-efficient model for states with California’s standards, and a less fuel-efficient model for the rest of the country. Or carmakers may just comply with California’s rules, which would negate the EPA’s rollback. Or Pruitt and Trump could try to deny California its longstanding power to enact emissions standards, triggering (another) legal battle with the state.
It sure sounds like Pruitt is readying for a war. “Cooperative federalism doesn't mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” he said in a statement. California leaders, already practiced in Trump resistance, are digging in as well. The state has already intervened in a lawsuit filed by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to overturn the federal fuel-efficiency standards. Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said his office is prepared to sue again to “fight the administration’s war on our environment.”
Pruitt’s efforts are a colossal waste of time and money. Every other government in the industrialized world recognizes that climate change is real and that it will take serious action now to minimize the devastating effects of global warming. The leading world economies also recognize that there is a much-needed shift from fossil fuel vehicles underway, and they are choosing to lead the transition to low- and no-carbon transportation systems.