Trump and California go to war over clean cars

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with California's then-Governor-elect Gavin Newsom (L) after greeting then-Governor Jerry Brown (C) upon arriving at Beale Air Force Base, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and the state of California went to war on Wednesday over who should set the standards in the United States for vehicle emissions and electric cars, foreshadowing a legal battle over environmental policy issues that will affect the auto industry and consumers.

Trump confirmed he would revoke California’s authority to require automakers to build cleaner vehicles than federal requirements demand.

The Republican president is counting on voters in truck-friendly heartland states to carry him to re-election in 2020, and he portrayed his decision as a win for consumers. Trump tweeted that vehicles would be “far less expensive” and “substantially SAFER” – claims California officials rejected.

Trump, who is in California this week, urged automakers to back the action, which also seeks to eliminate California’s electric vehicle mandates that are also adopted 10 other states.

The announcement will not immediately lead to revised emissions requirements, but the Trump administration plans to announce this autumn a separate rule to dramatically roll back Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards agreed with California, advancing a multipronged attack on the state’s efforts to reshape the mix of vehicles driven by Americans.

“Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business,” Trump tweeted.

So far, none have publicly supported revocation of California’s authority.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp, Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE), Ford Motor Co and others, declined to take a position on Trump’s revocation of California’s waiver, saying automakers will review the decision “to get the full picture of how this impacts automakers, our workers and our customers.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Transportation Department plan to announce on Thursday that the government is revoking an EPA waiver California received in 2013 to set state emissions rules and that the agency believes federal law preempts the state from setting fuel efficiency rules.

The roughly 150-page final action will cite the July decision of four major automakers to adopt voluntary emissions standards with California stricter than Trump has proposed, but lower than Obama-era rules, and challenge the state’s lack of analysis of its existing waiver authority.

“Recent actions by the state of California … have confirmed the need for final decision from agencies that the states do not have the authority to set (greenhouse gas) standards or establish (zero emission vehicle) mandates,” the draft document says, according to a person briefed on the matter who wasn’t authorized to discuss the confidential document.

On Wednesday morning, California Governor Gavin Newsom, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Mary Nichols, the state’s top clean air regulator, denounced Trump’s action as a “political vendetta” that risks damage to the climate and public health and would leave the U.S. auto industry behind in a global race to develop electric vehicle technology.

Newsom, Becerra and Nichols said the state will go to court to challenge the administration’s action once it is official.

“This is the fight of a lifetime for us,” Nichols said. “We have to win this and I believe we will.”

Trump’s action came on the same day teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg was addressing the U.S. Congress and urging lawmakers to treat climate change “as the existential crisis it is.”

When asked about Trump’s move, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday he was opposed to it.

“I’m strongly in favor of a decentralized approach to these measures and I’m strongly against any reduction of that decentralization,” he said

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