California officials boycott LA auto show in warning to industry: 'It's not business as usual'

California officials boycott LA auto show in warning to industry: 'It's not business as usual'
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A decision by California state officials to boycott the state's annual auto show for the first time in half a century was meant to issue a stark warning to automakers who sided with the Trump administration in an ongoing emissions lawsuit.

“We have not cut off all communications with any representatives from any of the [car] companies ... We’re not pulling up the drawbridge to California here. But we’re definitely sending the message that it's not business as usual,” said California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols on Wednesday.

Nichols has emerged this year as a steadfast figure in the Golden State’s opposition to the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks. On a call with reporters Wednesday morning, the former lawyer said the decision to boycott the auto show included a number of state agencies, including the public utilities commission, California Transports and the Department of General Services.

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“To the best of my knowledge, all of them have agreed not to go,” she said. 

Attendance at the Los Angeles Auto Show, an annual gathering of automakers to show off their upcoming models, was typically “a little bit of a perk,” Nichols said. But this year could have been an uncomfortable affair as the fight between the state and President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE over California's ability to regulate its own tailpipe emissions standards has also divided automakers.

The Trump administration in September announced it would be revoking California’s ability to set higher tailpipe emissions than federal standards. The news came as the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated plans to weaken current emissions levels previously determined under joint talks between the Obama administration and California. 

In July, four auto manufacturers — Ford, BMW, Volkswagen and Honda — struck a fuel efficiency deal with California. The Department of Justice has since threatened to sue, citing market collusion. 

In September, Kia, General Motors, and other top foreign and American car companies backed the Trump administration in an ongoing lawsuit with California over fuel economy standards — effectively splitting the auto industry.

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Earlier this week, California announced it would end purchases from automakers that have not committed to following California’s tailpipe emission regulations, including General Motors, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler, by January. That would leave what Nichols calls the “fabulous four” to fill the state’s fleet.

Nichols on Wednesday pushed back on automakers that joined the Trump administration in the ongoing lawsuit, criticizing them for wanting to “have their cake and eat it too.”

“They want to work with California. They’re interested in taking our money, not just for buying cars but our incentives we offer for hybrids and electric cars and wanting to stand with us to show how green and sustainable they are,” Nichols said.

“But at the same time trying to cut the legs out from under us and wanting to go to court and say we don't have the right to do what we're doing.”

Nichols said board has not spoken to EPA officials since negotiations were abruptly cut off at the beginning of the year. But she said the California agency and EPA have continued to hold policy discussions about other issues in the works, including nitrogen oxide emissions standards for heavy duty trucks.

“I’m afraid to say anything that if [EPA Administrator] Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA to resume contract negotiations with employee union Overnight Energy: Critics call EPA air guidance 'an industry dream' | New Energy secretary says Trump wants to boost coal | EPA looks to speed approval of disputed industry pollution permits Latest EPA guidance weakens air protections in favor of industry, critics say MORE hears about it, he might pull the plug,” Nichols said of the not-yet finalized regulatory proposal.

“It’s only around this issue of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards that we are at this impasse.”