Trump Tells Automakers It’s Us-or-Them on Emissions

The Trump administration has told carmakers they must choose between federal and California emission laws after ending talks to find a compromise.

Multiple sources tell Bloomberg News the “us-or-them” ultimatum was delivered in a tense conference call in late February. The call involved manufacturers’ representatives and senior officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Carmakers have been pleading with the two sides to arrive at a consensus and avert a country split by two sets of emission standards. California’s regulations also are followed by a dozen other states and the District of Columbia.

The Trump administration ended negotiations with the California Air Resources Board last month, declaring that CARB had failed to offer a “productive alternative.” CARB claims the White House stopped communicating last December by refusing to comment on suggested areas of compromise or offer any alternatives.

At issue are future carbon dioxide limits. California has enjoyed Congressional authority since 1970 to write its own emission laws for harmful gases, which include CO2. But the fuel economy of a piston-powered vehicle is directly related to how much CO2 it emits, and only NHTSA has authority to set fuel economy limits.

Legal experts predict many months of courtroom wrangling to resolve the regulatory overlap. The Trump administration intends to strip California of its regulatory power, but that attempt is certain to produce its own legal battle.