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Cars drive over the Golden Gate Bridge on Aug. 2 in Sausalito, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Last April, the Trump administration set the stage for a legal battle with California by nullifying the Obama administration's clean-car regulatory plan. Instead of requiring new vehicles to score an average of nearly 50 miles per gallon on lab tests by 2025, standards would flatline after 2020.

What's new: Formal public reaction to this plan was due on Oct. 26, and the comments show that none of the major stakeholders supports the administration's proposal. While the prospect of a compromise long looked slim, it now appears that the makings of a deal might be on the table.

The key parties:

  • California, allied states and major green groups have prepared to defend existing targets, with the Environmental Defense Fund calling the administration's proposal "arbitrary, capricious and illegal."
  • Automakers started this fight and praise the administration for reversing the Obama-era decisions. But even they say the proposal is too weak, and want to keep the peace by compromising on a single, national program that still offers regulatory relief.

Automakers have been vague about their preferred targets, stipulating only that they be in line with market realities. California has said it's open to greater flexibility, but insists on strong progress toward long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals, including rapid electrification of the state's vehicle fleet.

Between the lines: The key to a compromise may lie in regulatory credits. These would enable automakers to meet standards that look increasingly stringent on paper despite being weaker in practice. Such credits would give companies extra "brownie points" for adding popular technologies to their cars, whether or not they actually cut emissions.

  • The Auto Alliance calls for a "significant expansion" of credits for plug-in hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles as well as additional credits for gasoline-only hybrids across the entire fleet.
  • Automakers also want a raft of new credits for assorted safety technologies they claim will save fuel, such as driver assistance and automation features.

The bottom line: As proposed, many of the automakers' recommendations won't work for California and its allies. But if the parties can strike a deal that sets federal standards closer to the Obama administration's, allows California to keep authority to set its own and includes extra credits (especially for electric vehicles), they might be able to avoid a lengthy court battle with high risks for both sides.

John M. DeCicco is a research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute.

Go deeper

Mike Pompeo shells out for media makeover

Via "Fox News Sunday"

Mike Pompeo's political action committee spent $30,000 on media training from last March to June — the most on any service beyond payroll during the first six months of 2021.

Why it matters: The former secretary of State hasn't just been losing weight but working to hone his media skills amid speculation about a possible presidential run, records show.

19 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan infrastructure group takes on election reform

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The bipartisan group focused on updating the Electoral Count Act of 1887 is seizing on this recess period to court senators more freely.

Why it matters: The group is led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and includes many members who helped reach the bipartisan infrastructure deal. They see themselves as the only hope of creating an election reform package able to muster 60 votes in the Senate.

Rep. Lamborn may have misused official resources, ethics panel alleges

Rep. Doug Lamborn departs from a news conference held by the House Republican Israel Caucus on May 19, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Congressional ethics investigators said Monday there is "substantial reason" to believe that Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) misused official resources and solicited or accepted improper gifts from subordinates.

Driving the news: Lamborn's aides told investigators they were often asked to run personal errands for his wife, Jeanie Lamborn, and were at one point tasked with helping his son apply for a federal position, according to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). Lamborn strongly denies the allegations.