Earlier this week, Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Honda and Volvo announced that they would be backing President Joe Biden’s decision to allow California to set their own stricter emissions standards for vehicles despite ongoing challengers from some lawmakers and states in favor of a federal standard emissions system.
For years, especially during the Trump administration, GM, along with Toyota and Fiat Chrysler, sided with the federal government in backing a uniform federal emissions standards rather than states, such as California, having differing, tougher standards. Former President Trump and the EPA attempted to revoke California’s standards in September of 2019, only for former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to sue the EPA days later. By October 2019, car companies had largely settled on whether they supported the Federal standards or the California standards, leading to many Californian lawmakers to speak out against the brewing battle. The next month, the state halted all purchases of new vehicles from the companies backing the federal standards, costing GM tens of millions in sales.
In December 2019, the Trump administration tried to remove the lawsuit, only for it to end up in litigation going into 2020. That September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an Executive Order phasing out all new gas-powered vehicle sales in California by 2035, further drawing a line in the sand on the combustable engine emissions. However, following President Joe Biden’s victory in November 2020, car makers who had backed the federal order largely shifted plans, instead backing California’s standards as a result in an attempt to possibly regain ground in things like California government vehicle sales.
By January 2022, all car makers had officially backed California’s authority to set new Clean Air Act vehicle emissions standards, leaving only the EPA in the way of returning to the old, state-level decision making. By March, the EPA finally announced that California could have their own emissions standards once again. In response to this, lawsuits were filed with 17 states, including Georgia, Ohio, and Texas, jointly suing the EPA to end this, while 19 states and the District of Columbia sided with California in embracing the Golden State’s standard instead.
All of this culminated in the five car makers taking a side once again in the emission standards fight as high gas prices, climate change, the logistics of importing and exporting cars, and other factors contribute to the growing complexity of the issue. The five agreed with California that they will follow California standards instead of US federal standards to help ensure a level playing field.
“While the Automobile Manufacturers are committed to the stringent framework standards even if the Waiver Decision is vacated, their competitors are not, and the Automobile Manufacturers thus have a significant interest in ensuring that California’s regulatory authority applies to all automakers to enable a level playing field,” said the five automakers earlier this week.
The car companies also want to prepare for new electric car laws and projected growth in the coming decades, including California’s plan to phase out the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035, Biden’s federal goal to have half of new car sales by 2030 be electric. and the EPA’s new emission rules that are pushing for a 28.3% reduction in vehicle emissions by 2026.
“This is just the newest phase for cars in the U.S., noted Michigan-based auto industry analyst Kevin Pullman to the Globe on Thursday. “The switch to more fuel efficient vehicles in the 70’s following the oil crisis, the removal of leaded gas in cars following public health concerns, laws requiring air bags, seat belts, and back-up cameras to be mandatory in cars, and so many other things have been fought tooth and nail in Washington, in Detroit, and elsewhere across the nation. This change over to better emissions in the roll up to going full electric is a bigger switch over, so the backlash is bigger too.”
“The stricter California standards have hit a huge snag, but a lot of states are falling on their side too. But, just like a lot of these changes to cars in the past, this is out of necessity, as if the $8 a gallon prices in California aren’t scary enough. And the federal and California standards need to be agreed upon soon.”
Lawsuit results are expected to change up where California and federal standards are at in the coming months.