GM Changes Stance, Won’t Fight California’s Tougher Emissions Rules

  • General Motors CEO Mary Barra said in a letter that GM is no longer backing the Trump administration in its fight to revoke California’s ability to set separate fuel emissions standards.
  • When California and the Trump administration came at odds last year following the EPA’s weakening of emissions standards, GM, along with several other automakers, took the side of the Trump administration.
  • President-Elect Joe Biden, Ford CEO Jim Farley, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom are among those who have applauded GM’s decision.

    General Motors has reversed its decision to back the Trump administration’s fight to force California, along with 12 other states, to comply with the less stringent fuel-efficiency standards Trump’s EPA put into place in 2018 for 2022 to 2025. The move signals that GM expects President-Elect Joe Biden to take a much different stance on emissions regulations once his presidency begins in January.

    “We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the president-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a letter to environmental groups. “We are confident that the Biden administration, California, and the U.S. auto industry, which supports 10.3 million jobs, can collaboratively find the pathway that will deliver an all-electric future.”

    Others across the industry have weighed in on GM’s decision. The EPA only said it’s interesting to see the changing stances of corporations, while Joe Biden said in a statement that it’s encouraging news to hear that GM will be working with his administration.

    “Perhaps most importantly, GM’s choice to work with the Biden-Harris administration and California to advance these goals demonstrates a promising path forward for how industry, labor, government, and environmental organizations can come together to tackle big problems and make vital progress on behalf of the American people,” Biden said in a statement.

    Ford, GM’s crosstown rival, had backed California from the beginning. Its new CEO, Jim Farley, commented on the decision on Twitter: “I applaud GM for reversing course on this critical issue,” Farley said. “I’m also proud that Bill Ford and Ford stood tall for environmental progress from the start. Principle over politics.”

    How We Got Here

    California’s emissions regulations have long been stricter than the rest of the country but had been in line with the EPA’s rules at the end of the Obama administration. The state came at odds with the federal mandates when the EPA weakened the Obama-era rules in 2018. The following year, the Trump administration began attempting to revoke California’s ability to set its own standards.

    Once the two sides came at odds, automakers began to back either California and its stricter rules, or Trump and his push for a less stringent national standard. Originally, General Motors, along with Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, and others, opted to openly back the Trump administration. Other automakers, including Ford, BMW, Honda, and Volkswagen, sided with California.

    President Trump argued that weaker emissions rules will help boost sales because the automakers will be able “to produce far less expensive cars for the consumer.” He has yet to weigh in on General Motors’ most recent announcement that it is no longer supporting his administration.

    The Obama administration mandated that new vehicles would need to achieve an average of 36 mpg by 2025, a roughly 5 percent yearly increase, while the Trump administration eventually decided to set a 1.5 percent yearly increase in fuel efficiency standards from 30 mpg in 2021.

    “GM’s acknowledgement of the reality that the future is zero emissions is further confirmation that it is time to move toward clean cars,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “I hope that GM will join the ranks of other forward-looking carmakers who stand against President Trump’s attack on clean air through clean cars.”

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