The Trump Administration Investigates California Clean Car Agreement

Rush hour on the Hollywood Freeway, Los Angeles in 2016.   Photo: Richard Vogel, AP

The Trump administration opened an anti-trust investigation over an agreement the state of California reached with automakers about producing cars that adhere to tougher emissions standards than the federal government now requires.  According to the Wall Street Journal on Friday, “Justice Department lawyers are seeking to determine whether Ford MotorHondaBMW AG and Volkswagen AG broke federal competition law by agreeing with California to follow tailpipe-emissions standards beyond those proposed by the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the probe.”  These four companies and the state of California agreed in July to one, nationwide emissions standard, effectively blunting the impact of the Trump rollback.

Why This Matters:  The Trump Administration has now gone on offense to stop the car companies and California from continuing to work toward cleaner cars even after the administration rolled back the federal clean car rule put in place by the Obama Administration earlier this year.  Since the Clean Air Act specifically and unequivocally allows the state of California to enact stricter tailpipe standards because of its historic problems with smog caused by cars, this investigation seems like a witch hunt to us.

Why Does California Get To Set Its Own Tailpipe Standards?

As The Conversation explains:

  • “[W]hen the Clean Air Act was passed, California was already developing innovative laws and standards to address its unique air pollution problems.”
  • Congress made a special exemption for Californa — as long as its standards protect public health and welfare at least as much as federal law, and if they are necessary “to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions,” the law requires the EPA to grant California a waiver so it can continue to apply its own regulations.
  • “California has received numerous waivers as it has worked to reduce vehicle emissions by enacting ever more stringent standards since the 1960s.”
  • “Other states can’t set their own standards, but they can opt to follow California’s motor vehicle emission regulations.”

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