Hidden in the Trump Administration’s proposed rollback of auto mileage and emissions standards is an attempt to end California’s ability to require manufacturers to sell electric vehicles.
After the early 1960s, when smog over Los Angeles led California to enact the nation’s first auto emissions standards, Congress granted the state a unique right to forgo federal requirements and chart its own, tougher regulatory course.
California’s goal of 1.5 million non-polluting vehicles by 2025 is based on a long-standing exemption from the federal Clean Air Act. It permits California to require manufacturers to sell electric vehicles. This has jump-started the market and encouraged the development of charging networks.
But the Trump administration sees things differently. The President himself tweeted back in 2013 that the United States was poised to waste “$100B of our money” on electric vehicle programs.
“We are delivering on President Trump’s promise to the American public that his administration would address and fix the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards,” said Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in announcing the proposed rollback last week.
Wheeler called for a “a 50-state solution” that ends California’s independence on emissions and mileage standards. The objective, he said, was “more affordable vehicles.”
As the largest and wealthiest state by far, California’s rules have effectively set the standard for the entire nation and sometimes the world. So automakers built all their cars to California standards. And that has long irked some.
Back in 2014, former Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne complained about having to make the Fiat 500e for California. “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000,” he said at the time.
But others, notably General Motors with its Volt and Bolt, BMW, and of course Tesla, have created a successful new business in electric vehicles. And Fiat’s 500e has ironically proved to be quite popular.
Many auto industry analysts are convinced the future will be electric. Electric cars are less complicated, becoming cheaper to build, and require almost no maintenance.
The roar of an internal combustion engine may be music to Trump’s SUV-driving, Harley-riding base, but it’s not the future as batteries get better and better and busy consumers lack time for oil changes and a budget for costly routine servicing.
California, 16 other states and the District of Columbia are challenging the Trump administration’s proposed standards. Let’s hope they prevail. If new government regulations force the United States to turn its back on electric cars, the future of the auto industry will be in China.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.