Nov 19, 2019 - Energy & Environment

The climate war over cars intensifies

Illustration of cars with competing bumper stickers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The high-stakes fight over vehicle emissions and mileage rules is getting more intense and drawing in new combatants.

Driving the news, part 1: California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state government would only buy cars for their fleets from automakers that reached a deal with the state on increasing emissions standards.

  • Ford, VW, Honda and BMW struck a deal with the state last summer that bucks the White House effort to roll back Obama-era standards for vehicles built through the mid-2020s.
  • "Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power," Newsom said in a statement on the policy first reported Friday by the site CalMatters.
  • That means ending purchases from GM, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and others siding with the administration in litigation over federal efforts to curb California's power to set rules that roughly a dozen other states follow.
  • The important numbers: Per Reuters, California bought nearly $59 million in vehicles from GM in 2016-2018 and nearly $56 million from Fiat Chrysler in the same period.
  • Quick take: This is increasingly a game of hardball. Remember the Justice Department recently opened an antitrust inquiry into the four companies that reached the deal with California.

Driving the news, part 2: Electric vehicle makers Tesla and Rivian are joining the fray.

  • They're members of the National Coalition for Advanced Transportation — a group that also includes several power and EV charging companies — that has joined litigation on the matter.
  • That group filed a motion Friday to intervene in cases filed by California and the Environmental Defense Fund challenging a Transportation Department finding that its purview over fuel economy preempts state tailpipe CO2 rules.
  • The group supports maintaining California's standards and zero-emissions vehicles program, and the motion lays out the parties' interests — including Tesla's ability to keep earning valuable compliance credits under the current rules.
  • Bloomberg Environment has more.

Where it stands: Those lawsuits, by the way, are two of a growing number in the administration tussle with California. On Friday, California and a suite of other states filed suit against EPA for yanking the state's Clean Air Act waiver to set standards that go beyond federal rules.

Why it matters: It's one of the most intense and consequential regulatory battles of the Trump era.

  • Transportation is the nation's largest carbon emissions source. And new Energy Department data shows those emissions rose again last year.
  • Meanwhile, automakers want a single set of national rules as they make billion-dollar bets on their future fleets. But the powerful industry has splintered on how to get there and what the standards should be.

Go deeper: The bumpy transition toward electric vehicles

Go deeper