Auto execs to meet with trump on nafta, emissions rules crain’s detroit business electricity and magnetism lecture notes

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WASHINGTON — Auto executives visiting the White House on Friday will try to save the national fuel economy and emissions program from a Trump administration buzz saw that they fear could usher in years of litigation and uncertainty rather than the leeway they sought.

Executives from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., and Toyota Motor Corp. are among at least a dozen expected to attend the meetings. Besides emissions standards, the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement is another issue at the forefront.

According to a detailed summary of the document publicly shared by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the preferred option flatlines fuel economy standards at the 2020 model year level of about 37 mpg through the 2026 model year, compared with current projected fleetwide average levels of 46.8 mpg for the 2026 model year.

The White House said in a statement on Thursday night that the president looked forward to a productive discussion with the automobile executives, and would listen to their comments on the effect of regulations on their industry and what they are doing to help establish a national standard.

Automakers’ stated priority is finding a sweet spot where modest changes can be made to the program without risk of losing the support of California’s strict air-quality regulators, so that they can sell all models in every state. The Trump proposal jeopardizes that by seeking to scuttle California’s authority to set stricter emissions rules if it objects to the federal plan.

The legal fight is underway. Seventeen states have sued the EPA to preserve the single emission standard, challenging Pruitt’s April 2 ruling that the existing rules are too aggressive. That decision set in motion a new rule-making process embodied in the draft proposal.

Pruitt has acknowledged he might try to revoke the state’s waiver under the Clean Air Act to set its own rules. The draft proposal argues that California is pre-empted by the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act from setting fuel economy standards or a zero-emission vehicle mandate.

Ann Carlson, a professor of environmental law at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote in a blog post that California regulates greenhouse gases, not fuel economy, and that NHTSA, which administers the federal fuel economy program, lacks authority to override California’s waiver.

She also argued that the draft proposal is legally tenuous because Pruitt’s April ruling covered only the 2022-25 model year standards, whereas the proposal would eliminate the 2021 model year standard and extend 2020 model year standards for six years.

"It is hard to imagine a court upholding the agency’s right to withdraw the standards with no evidence in the record for doing so," she wrote. "Instead, this seems to be a flagrant attempt to say, ‘We aren’t going to regulate you at all’ given that manufacturers have already had to factor the 2020 standards into their production decisions."

The auto industry CEOs invited to the White House will reiterate that they support continuous improvements in fuel economy and aligning standards with market demand, said Wade Newton, a spokesman at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "We’ll also underscore our support for one national program because it is best for our customers, who avoid higher prices from the redundancies of three government agencies regulating the same thing. And an agreement among the federal government, California and the auto industry is better than years of litigation."

Margo Oge, a former Obama administration EPA official who helped develop the emissions standards, said, "The only winner I see in this is the oil industry," because it will be able to sell up to 206 billion extra gallons of gasoline over 30 years.

As a candidate, he repeatedly attacked Ford over its decision to build an automobile plant in Mexico. Three days before Trump’s inauguration, Ford announced that it would abandon the plant — even though construction was underway. The president-elect responded with tweets of praise.