According to Bloomberg News, California has indicated a willingness to engage in “discussions on its greenhouse gas limits for cars and trucks for 2025, so long as automakers and the Trump administration embrace significantly tougher targets the state is seeking for later years.”
The chair of the California Air Resources Board bluntly stated, “The price of getting us to the table is talking about post-2025 … we’re willing to talk about specific areas if there were legitimate concerns the companies raised — in the context of a bigger discussion about where we’re going post-2025.”
Ultimatums and hubris are not a winning strategy for negotiation when your authority is based on a waiver granted by the federal government under provisions of the Clean Air Act.
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were included in the act as a way to reduce oil use while achieving air quality standards, and the waiver provision was to allow California to set more stringent standards because of its unique air quality problems. It also allowed other states to adopt the California program, which has given California leverage in attempting to set mileage standards for the entire nation. The Obama administration morphed CAFE from increased efficiency and air quality to climate change and reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions.
The most recent CAFE revision was adopted in 2012 and requires automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 2025, to 54.5 miles per gallon. Because the standard required automakers to push the development of more highly fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrid and fully electric cars, a provision was made for a mid-term review to determine the feasibility of the 54.5 mpg objective.
Just before the end of the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency determined it was and finalized its approval of the 2025 requirements. This action was intended to prevent a Republican administration from changing the second phase. However, EPA and the Department of Transportation have issued a joint notice of reconsideration that provides for additional consultation and comment.
It is appropriate to re-evaluate the second phase on at least two grounds. First, the second phase is technology forcing, which has been proven to be a blunt and costly way to achieve advancement. Auto manufacturers recognize the benefits to continued improvement in engine technology and consumers take those improvements into account in making purchases. Progress will continue without the heavy hand of government dictating an arbitrary time frame and driving up the cost of vehicle purchases, which is a hidden tax on mobility.
The auto industry has shown a strong recovery from the great recession, but recent sales have plateaued. Avoiding the unnecessary and heavy cost of compliance will help it weather the inevitable and periodic industry slumps.
The second reason, however, is more important. EPA’s use of CAFE to push climate policy was based on a weak foundation, the poorly reasoned Supreme Court decision that carbon dioxide could be considered a pollutant. If carbon dioxide was the primary cause of warming, it must also be the cause of the lack of warming. Those conclusions are contradictory, which means that warming is more complicated and carbon dioxide is not dominant.
That conclusion is bolstered by the most recent report — AR-5 — of the International Panel on Climate Change, which advocates use as the gold standard. This report revised its estimate of climate sensitivity and stated, “The lower temperature limit of the assessed likely range is thus less than the (2 degrees Centigrade) in the AR-4, but the upper limit is the same. This assessment reflects improved understanding, the extended temperature record in the atmosphere and ocean, and new estimates of radiative forcing.”
Empirical evidence and the International Panel on Climate Change report provide strong evidence for re-evaluating the justification for EPA’s second phase.
If the administration issues a revised second phase CAFE rule, California will have to apply for a new waiver, which the administration should reject as not being necessary for continued air quality improvement or a meaningful contribution to reducing global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. California will likely sue and if litigation runs its full course, the case will end up with the Supreme Court, which will be able to revisit and reverse its 2007 decision.
While EPA considers changing the second phase, California plans to double down with a potential law to outlaw gasoline and diesel powered cars by 2040. As covered by an article in the American Spectator, such a law would be devastating to the poor and disruptive to California’s infrastructure planning. Of course, 2040 is distant enough that many of the leading proponents will probably not be in positions to bear the consequences of folly.
California’s war on mobility and the internal combustion engine are a strong reason for revising the Clean Air Act.