By Keith Reid

Bloomberg broke the story on February 19 that the EPA and California Air Resources Board had reached an impasse over the Trump administration’s efforts to reevaluate and to a great extent rollback the Obama administration’s aggressive Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards through the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule. Those standards would have required a 54 miles-per-gallon fleet average for passenger cars and light trucks by 2025. That would be challenging given that the current mileage average comes in at 25 miles per gallon.

Further, a federal waiver dating back to the 1970 Clean Air Act has uniquely allowed California to set its own pollution regulations, and those can be more stringent than federal standards. The Trump administration wants to eliminate that waiver, which gives California a backdoor ability to dictate federal standards due to its market size.

The White House confirmed the reporting with the following announcement:

Today, officials from the White House, Department of Transportation, and Environmental Protection Agency announced that the Trump Administration has decided to discontinue discussions with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) regarding the proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule. Despite the Administration’s best efforts to reach a common-sense solution, it is time to acknowledge that CARB has failed to put forward a productive alternative since the SAFE Vehicles Rule was proposed. Accordingly, the Administration is moving forward to finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles.

In a statement to The Washington Post CARB spokesman Stanley Young responded: “The administration broke off communications before Christmas and never responded to our suggested areas of compromise—or offered any compromise proposal at all,” he said. “We concluded at that point that they were never serious about negotiating, and their public comments about California since then seem to underscore that point.”

Details are currently lacking as to the specifics of the CARB proposals, but it would frankly have been an enormous surprise if any progress had been made. Having interacted with CARB officials on occasion and read a range of policy statements and response quotes to various initiatives, any substantial effort to “meet in the middle” would have been unlikely. The organization, as is the case with the leadership in the state, has a very aggressive outlook on the need to fight climate change and sees that as a mission that transcends local boundaries.

The Trump administration is similarly on a mission to evaluate climate change policy in relation to the needs of the United States economy, where unilateral sacrifices are required relative to foreign competitors. There would likely have been little room to compromise from that quarter.

It should be noted approximately 16 other states, primarily in the environmentally conscious Northeast, oppose the administration’s initiatives and have filed suit along with California to fight any revisions.

For more detailed information you can access our previous policy brief “The Fight Over CAFE Standards” that was posted on August 28, 2018.