But with the publication of Monday’s legal agreement, the “stunt” is no longer voluntary.
“We went into this voluntarily, but it is now binding, it’s enforceable,” said Spencer Reeder, director of government affairs at Audi America, who helped to negotiated the agreement on behalf of Volkswagen, Audi’s parent company.
Climate and Environment ›
Keep Up on the Latest Climate News
Updated Aug. 17, 2020
Here’s what you need to know this week:
- The Trump administration finalized a plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas companies, which will likely spur a legal battle.
- Climate change leaders said the vice-presidential choice of Kamala Harris signaled that Democrats will have a focus on environmental justice.
- This year is poised to be one of the hottest ever and millions are already feeling the pain, but the agony of extreme heat is profoundly unequal across the globe.
Under the California agreement, the automakers, which together make up about 30 percent of the United States auto market, will be required to increase their average fuel economy from about 38 miles per gallon today to about 51 miles per gallon by 2026. By comparison, the Trump administration’s national rule on auto emissions, which was completed this spring, rolled back a 2012 rule that required automakers’ fleets to average about 54 miles per gallon by 2025. Instead, the fleets now must only average about 40 miles per gallon.
The differences in fuel efficiency requirements will have profound impacts on the climate. Increasing fuel efficiency means vehicles burn less gasoline and emit less greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere. Mr. Trump’s rollback of the Obama-era rule on fuel economy amounts to the single largest step he has taken to erase his predecessor’s policies to fight climate change.
The four automakers’ deal with California amounts to a rebuke to that rollback.
Stanley Young, a spokesman for California’s Air Resources Board, said the agreement achieved “continuous annual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while saving consumers money.”
And because the deal extends beyond California’s borders, the impact could be substantial. Thirteen other states follow California’s state-level standards and have agreed to enforce the new agreement. The fate of the separate standards is expected to be decided by the Supreme Court, which will most likely render judgment on a multistate lawsuit that seeks to nullify the Trump administration’s federal rule or at least to retain states’ authority to set stricter rules.
If former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. wins the White House, he will almost certainly seek to restore the Obama-era tailpipe pollution rules and allow California and other states to set tighter rules.
The automakers that sided with California say that their agreement will lock them into selling more fuel-efficient, lower-polluting vehicles across all the states, regardless of the White House occupant.
“This represents consistency from a policy point of view,” said Bob Holycross, vice president for sustainability, environment and safety engineering with Ford.
“Whether it is from one political party to another or the changes from elections or what the makeup of Congress is, we have to have regulatory certainty beyond just political cycles governing the investments we make,” he said.