Trump administration ends talks with California over car emissions rule

The Trump administration says it has cut off negotiations with California officials over the future of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency rules for cars.

In a joint statement, the White House, Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the talks with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had not been fruitful, adding that the Trump administration will move forward with its plan to roll back the pollution standards.

“Despite the administration’s best efforts to reach a common-sense solution, it is time to acknowledge that CARB has failed to put forward a productive alternative since the SAFE Vehicles Rule was proposed,” the administration officials said, referring to the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Rule, the proposal last year to repeal plans to increase the stringency of efficiency and emissions standards for newly built vehicles.

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“Accordingly, the administration is moving forward to finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles,” the officials said.

Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler told Bloomberg Television this month that the parties were “far apart” in negotiations.

“We certainly hope to have a 50-state solution but at the end of the day we have to move forward with regulation,” he said. “California is an important player — an important part of this — but this is not a two-sided negotiation for a national standard.”

Last year’s proposal would freeze vehicle standards next year, canceling plans to make them more stringent through 2026. Those standards envisioned new cars getting an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2026.

The auto industry has endorsed the attempts by the EPA and DOT to weaken standards set by the Obama administration, saying that they are not achievable at an affordable cost.

But automakers also object to completely freezing the standards, saying that they should continue to get stronger, just not at the previously set rate.

California has the authority to set its own greenhouse gas rules for cars under the Clean Air Act and a waiver granted by the Obama administration. Thirteen states follow California’s standards for cars sold in their borders, representing about 40 percent of the nation's vehicle market.

California is aligned with the current federal rules, thanks to regulators’ previous negotiations.

But last year’s proposal to roll back the the standards would have ended California’s waiver, under the argument that it is illegal.

State officials have threatened to sue if the proposal was finalized. Meanwhile, they and the Trump administration have been negotiating for months toward a middle ground that would avoid California attempting to set its own stricter standards or a lawsuit from the Golden State that could take years to resolve — both outcomes that the auto industry wants to avoid.

California officials slammed the Thursday announcement, and accused the Trump administration of being disingenuous in its talks.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE is now targeting clean, breathable air for kids across America in his quest to punish California,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a statement.

“If the Trump administration follows through, the only winners will be fossil fuel companies, and those profits will come at the expense of our childrens’ health.”

California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraTrump drops bid to add citizenship question to 2020 census Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Appeals court appears skeptical of upholding ObamaCare mandate | Drug pricing deal faces GOP pushback | Trump officials look for plan B after court strikes drug TV ad rule Democratic group hits GOP attorneys general in six-figure ad campaign on ObamaCare MORE (D), who has sued the Trump administration dozens of times over the president’s policies, restated his threat to sue over the car standards.

“Walking away from negotiations is sadly consistent with the Trump Administration’s retreat from our nation’s existing Clean Car Standards,” Becerra said.

CARB Chairwoman Mary Nicholas said it is “unfortunate that the Trump administration has chosen to put an end to any effort to find common ground — but it is a signal to us to stand our ground and resolutely defend standards that clean the air we breathe, fight climate change and provide certainty to carmakers in a global market moving inexorably toward cleaner, more efficient cars.”

Conservative activists cheered the end to negotiations, saying California has wielded too much power over national vehicle rules.

“California was never going to negotiate in good faith with the Trump administration. For years California politicians have made green virtue signaling a priority over affordable, abundant energy no matter the impact on California families,” said Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, which wants the administration to revoke California’s authority to set its own standards.

While the auto industry has pushed for the Trump administration to weaken the standards, the sector wasn’t happy with Thursday’s announcement.

“We continue to believe there is a middle ground solution that supports the goals of the Administration, state of California, as well as automakers,” said John Bozzella, president of Global Automakers.

“Global Automakers is disappointed and concerned that the failure of federal and state regulators to reach an agreement on a national program will not benefit either our economic nor environmental objectives.”

Wheeler has stated he plans to finalize the rollback by early April, in time for the design season for 2021 vehicle models.

-Updated 3:50 p.m.