California will stop buying GM, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota cars over emissions standards

The fight over CARB’s ability to set its own emissions standards within the state is heating up, with a number of automakers coming out in favor of a single federal standard.

The state of California announced earlier this month that it will stop buying vehicles from General Motors brands, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Toyota in an escalation of an ongoing effort by the White House to disallow California to regulate vehicle emissions within the state in favor of a single federal standard. The efforts of the Trump administration to remove the state’s ability to regulate emissions via its own agency, the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, date back to September, amid earlier moves to roll back EPA targets. But it wasn’t until last month that a number of automakers joined the administration’s effort to strip California of its own regulatory regime.

“Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of CA’s buying power,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a tweet days ago in announcing the move.

As a result, the state’s Department of General Services announced that it will immediately stop buying gas-engined vehicles for state government fleets, with the exception of public safety vehicles. 

“Effective immediately, DGS will prohibit purchasing by state agencies of any sedans solely powered by an internal combustion engine, with exemptions for certain public safety vehicles,” the agency said. “A second policy, which is currently being developed by DGS, will require state agencies, starting on Jan. 1, 2020, to only purchase vehicles from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that recognize the California Air Resources Board’s authority to set greenhouse gas and zero-emission vehicle standards, and which have committed to continuing stringent emissions reduction goals for their fleets.”

This means that the manufacturers that have joined the White House effort to strip CARB of its power will not have their cars purchased by DGS with the exception of police, fire and other agencies. 

Four other automakers have made a separate deal with California over the summer, including Volkswagen, BMW, Honda and Ford. Those automakers’ separate deal with California was met with sharp criticism from President Donald Trump.

“These new policies apply to all non-public safety, vehicle categories where departments have a choice between vehicles produced by CARB compliant and non-compliant OEMs,” the agency added.

If this sounds like a lot of vehicles for a state with over 35 million people, that’s because it is—the state owns some 51,000 vehicles—and it could be a boon for automakers with EVs and hybrids in their lineups that have not been supplying them to state government agencies this whole time.

But this seemingly sudden move by the state of California isn’t so sudden; the White House had promised to roll back CAFE targets very early on in the current term and to issue other legislation aimed at easing emissions in response to automaker pressure. That pressure stemmed from EPA targets that were first announced as goals about a decade ago, but cemented in the days before the current administration entered the White House, aiming for fleet-wide fuel efficiency of at least 50 mpg by 2025. While the EPA cited progress in fuel efficiency made over the first half of the current decade, automakers lobbied the government to roll back those targets, pointing out that large SUVs and crossovers were back in vogue by the second half of the decade amid relatively inexpensive fuel prices. Despite the continued lobbying effort by several automakers, a large number of them were already on track to hit the targets set by the agency’s rulemaking.

While the court battle over California’s own emissions regulations has been going on for some time, it escalated sharply in September of this year when the White House acted to strip California’s ability to set its own emissions standards that date back to the Clean Air Act of 1970, signed into law by President Nixon. Legal experts are skeptical over the administration’s effort to take back California’s waiver that had been granted decades prior, mostly because the Clean Air Act itself did not create a revocation process for a waiver. Twenty-two states have joined California in seeking to preserve CARB’s ability to regulate its own emissions in the state, independently of the more permissive federal standards.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom took a shot at Toyota on Twitter earlier this month over its support of the White House push against CARB.

“DGS is committed to ensuring we do our part to achieve California’s climate goals,” said DGS director Daniel C. Kim. “Our state continues to lead by example by eliminating sedans solely powered by gas. This is one of many steps California has taken, and will continue to take, to drive demand for green vehicles. The nation looks to California to drive positive, environmental change, and we will not waver from our commitment to that effort.”

Newsom took a shot at Toyota on Twitter, in response to Toyota making the argument that it wants a single federal standard for fuel emissions.

“You can try to disguise the decision you made—but it won’t change the facts,” Newsom tweeted.

“You chose to go the way of Donald Trump and the oil industry over clean air and our kids’ future.”

“There is no denying that.”

It remains to be seen whether the administration will be successful in stripping California of its ability to set its own emissions standards, granted by a waiver decades ago, and whether the automakers banned by California from state vehicle purchases will be compelled to reconsider their support of the administration’s effort. The automakers backing the removal of CARB’s ability to regulate emissions within the state appear to be counting on the possibility that the effort will succeed.

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