Energy & Environment

GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California’s tougher emissions standards

The upcoming change in administrations has led to a change of heart for one of the nation’s largest automakers.

General Motors will no longer be siding with the Trump administration in a legal battle to hinder California’s ability to set tougher vehicle emissions standards.

In a letter to environmental groups involved in the same suit, General Motors said they have withdrawn from the litigation, citing the incoming Biden administration as well as their own plans to electrify their suite of vehicles.

“We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the President-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions. We are confident that the Biden administration, California, and the U.S. auto industry, which supports 10.3 million jobs, can collaboratively find the pathway that will deliver an all-electric future,” General Motors wrote in the letter.

“To better foster the necessary dialogue, we are immediately withdrawing from the preemption litigation and inviting other automakers to join us,” the company continued.

With General Motors’s exit, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler are left on the suit, as is the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation, which also includes Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Isuzu, Maserati and Ferrari, among others.

Toyota suggested it was weighing its role in the litigation. 

“Given the changing circumstances, we are assessing the situation, but remain committed to our goal of a consistent, unitary set of fuel economy standards applicable in all 50 states,” the company said in a statement.

None of the others responded to request for comment.

The suit — one of many resulting from the Trump administration’s actions rolling back fuel efficiency standards — came shortly after President Trump revoked a waiver that for decades allowed California to craft tougher emissions standards that were in turn adopted by more than a dozen other states.

The fallout between the Trump administration and California has left automakers in a confusing position.

The Trump administration followed through on their pledge to roll back Obama-era emissions standards in March, asking automakers to craft fleets reaching about 40 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2026, bringing mileage below what automakers have said is possible for them to achieve.

Five automakers have since signed agreements with California committing to reach mileage closer to the 55 mpg by 2025 required under Obama.

If the Trump rollback isn’t struck down in court, the incoming Biden administration will have to reverse the rule and craft their own. Such a rule would likely require greater electrification by automakers given Biden’s climate plan’s emphasis on greater electrification.

“Given this shared enthusiasm and the President-elect’s call to bring the country back together, we believe there is now a path to achieve agreement on a national standard and complementary policies to accelerate the electrification of the light-duty transportation sector,” GM wrote in its letter.

While the news was largely welcomed by environmental groups, some argued they would have to do more work after making an abrupt about-face with the change in administration.  

“GM’s move is an important sign that automakers recognize that the transition to zero-emitting vehicles is well underway,” The Natural Resources Defence Council said in a statement. 

“If GM is going to live up to its promise of being part of the solution to our climate crisis, it must support ambitious, federal and state clean car standards – standards that will put us on the path to make all new passenger vehicles pollution-free by 2035.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who has been critical of the dueling goals created by the California waiver system, encouraged Toyota and Fiat Chrysler to also leave the litigation.

“General Motors did the right thing today by removing their name from this misguided lawsuit.  It’s time for other automakers to do the same,” she said in a statement, arguing the case has just led to uncertainty for struggling American automakers.

“The need for one national program for fuel economy, which increases targets year-over-year and delivers on the twin goals of giving the industry certainty while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, remains as urgent as ever,” she added.

The Biden transition team thanked GM for their willingness to work with the administration.

“GM’s decision reinforces how shortsighted the Trump Administration’s efforts to erode American ingenuity and America’s defenses against the climate threat truly are. In addition to advancing our ambitious climate goals, this decision will have a positive ripple effect as our nation strives to outcompete our global competitors, create good-paying union jobs here at home, and reclaim our place as leaders,” they said in a statement.

Updated at 6:00 p.m.

Tags Automotive industry in the United States Debbie Dingell Donald Trump Fuel Efficiency Standards General Motors Lawsuit

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