A few days before Thanksgiving, General Motors announced that it would withdraw its support from the Trump administration’s attempt to stop California from setting its own emissions standards. “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’s CEO Mary Barra said in a statement.
But GM’s not the only American automaker to suggest it’s time to work with California and the incoming Biden administration. In fact, according to Automotive News, Ford just went slightly further, urging other automakers to work with the state of California to get everyone on the same page. And not starting once the new administration is in charge, either. Ford wants to reach an agreement before Biden is sworn in on January 20.
So long, polluters
With GM now out, that leaves Toyota and Fiat-Chrysler (now Stellantis) as the most notable automakers supporting Trump’s attempt to revoke California’s right to set its own emissions standards. Meanwhile, over the summer, Ford worked with automakers such as BMW, Honda, and Volkswagen AG to strike their own deal with California. The emissions targets they agreed on aren’t as aggressive as they would have been under the Obama Administration’s regulations, but they’re better than what the Trump administration had planned to allow.
It’s not a winnable fight
It’s not yet clear how aggressively the Biden administration will go after polluters, but don’t expect the lax Trump standards to last. At least that’s Ford’s position. In the letter Automotive News obtained, Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s head of North America, called the issue “essentially moot.”
Galhotra went on to tell other automakers they should, “actively consider embracing the California framework.” And the reason why shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. “The Biden Administration will not let the Trump standards stand, and either by way of litigation and/or a regulatory reboot, the new team will move in a different, more stringent direction,” wrote Galhotra.
Don’t assume malice
It would be easy to dismiss GM’s and other automakers’ support for the Trump administration’s lawsuit as an attempt to make more money selling inefficient cars. But while it’s arguable that their support was short-sighted, it’s at least understandable that automakers would prefer a single standard for the entire country. And remember, GM plans to become a zero-emissions company with or without government regulations.
The other side of the argument, though, is that automakers should just build cars that meet California’s requirements since that would also satisfy the EPA. And that’s exactly what Ford argues. When asked for a comment on the letter, a Ford spokesperson said its agreement with California “should be the foundation for new regulations as the Biden administration considers stronger fuel economy standards in 2021.”
Why should people care?
If America is all about freedom, shouldn’t companies be able to build what they want and let the people decide what kind of gas mileage they’ll accept? In theory, sure. But also, remember the phrase, “Your right to swing your arms ends just where my nose begins,”? Essentially that, just replace arms with cars and noses with lungs (although noses would probably still work here, too).
Drivers who live in sparsely populated rural areas are rarely impacted by tailpipe emissions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t cause problems. Rewind only a handful of decades, and the air quality in LA was so bad, the skyline was often obscured by smog. Thanks to California’s crackdown on emissions, things are a lot better today, but they’re still pretty bad. As the article referenced above points out, smog contributes to nearly 10,000 deaths every year, and a little under a third of childhood asthma cases are the result of breathing polluted air.
Is it really fair for a child to get asthma because other people spent decades over-exercising their freedoms? Of course not. Just like it’s not fair for a factory in another town to dump chemicals into the river that ruin a good fishing spot. Or for a neighbor to blast their music so loud, the entire neighborhood can hear it.
If it helps, maybe think of emissions laws like a homeowners association’s rules. It’s easy to hate on HOAs, and often for good reason. But it’s also nice to know Jan will shut down that 3 am fireworks show within 30 seconds of someone striking a match.