Friday, July 26, 2019

Automakers Bypass Feds and Negotiate Gas Mileage Requirements with California

Smog in Los Angeles. Click for photo credit.
California's unique geography with high mountains and deep valleys makes it particularly vulnerable to air pollution problems. Those who remember the 1970's recall the terrible state of California's smog problems. The region had far worse air pollution than most other areas of the United States. That is why when the Clean Air Act was enacted, it gave California special rights to establish automobile gasoline milage requirements. Over the last few decades, California has led the way in incrementally increasing the gas milage of cars in order to reduce air pollution. The state, along with the Obama administration, worked with automakers to set new standards for emissions about a decade ago with some pretty aggressive goals including making automobile gas milage requirements of 51 miles per gallon for their fleet. This would be undertaken by developing a larger set of electric and hybrid vehicles available to the public. I for one am looking forward to the electric F150.

When the current president came into office, he promised to rollback the agreements of the Obama administration and freeze the current miles per gallon standards as they are now. He also promised to get rid of California's special right to negotiate with car manufacturers to set state standards. California essentially sets the regulations for the rest of the nation when it comes to milage standards of vehicles.

However, there has been an interesting development.

Click for photo credit.
According to this article in the Washington Post, by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, most of the major car manufacturers have stopped working with the Trump administration to set standards and are now working with California to establish the next set of goals.

Why?

I think there are two reasons for this. First, I think that corporate culture has changed and major companies are trying to move forward on sustainability issues. If they were to roll back their green targets, especially as much of the country is waking up to the realities of climate change, they would be seen as unethical and unconcerned with planetary safety which could lead to legal challenges to any rollbacks of agreements. In addition, the current executive leadership in Washington is seen by many as unstable and wobbly. Many leaders, including many industrial leaders, do not fully trust the administration to follow through. As such, they see California as a more viable partner for the future.

This Ford car manufacturing facility near Detroit utilizes a number of green
technologies including solar power. Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Second, most major car manufacturers produce for the world market which is much more comfortable with cars with high miles per gallon standards. The cost of gasoline in the U.S. is cheap compared to the rest of the world and most of the world prefers cars with excellent fuel efficiency. If car manufacturers were to keep making gas guzzling cars, they would largely be only for the American market. Is it really worth it to them to keep old technology going when much better technology is available? Can manufacturers spend time to design, engineer, and manufacture very different vehicles for different parts of the world?

Regardless of the reason for major manufacturers to work with California instead of the Trump administration, it is good news for the environment. While many, including myself, believe that our country should much more aggressively reduce greenhouse gases from the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., this deal is probably the best thing that could be negotiated at this particular time. 

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