Can California Beat Trump in the Fight over Vehicle Emissions?

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California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday signed an executive order that, among other things, sets a new target for the number of zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) the state wants to see on California roads and highways by 2030. The previous target of 1.5 million ZEVs by 2025 has been raised to 5 million and a new target date of 2030 has been set.

To support that lofty goal, the governor also proposed an eight-year initiative to continue offering the state’s vehicle rebates and to boost investment in infrastructure to support ZEVs. The proposal calls for the state to spend $2.5 billion to help bring 250,000 vehicle charging stations and 200 hydrogen fueling stations to the state by 2025.

Governor Brown commented:

This executive order aims to curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks and boost the number of zero-emission vehicles driven in California. In addition, the cap-and-trade investments will, in varying degrees, reduce California’s carbon footprint and improve the quality of life for all.

The auto industry has sought help from the Trump administration to relax national emissions rules for the period between 2022 and 2025. But more than that, perhaps, automakers want California and the rest of the country to be on the same page. The state is the country’s largest market for new cars and conflicting carbon emissions rules generate a significant headache for car makers.

Trump administration officials and representatives of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) met last week to discuss the requirements. CARB chairwoman Mary Nichols said at a press conference Friday that the board does not believe California standards need to be lowered but the board is willing to discuss making modifications if there is evidence to justify the move.

The automakers (and the Trump administration) seek relief from standards the carmakers agreed to in 2012 because low gasoline prices have led U.S. consumers to buy bigger, less fuel-efficient (and dirtier) vehicles. The argument goes that If automakers don’t build what people want to buy, jobs will be lost and the companies will lose revenues and profits.

On the other side, California wants to incentivize consumers to choose cleaner vehicles which, in turn, would incentivize automakers to build more of them and fewer high-margin pickups and SUVs. That’s a tough sell to the business-friendly Trump administration and, perhaps, an even tougher sell to U.S. consumers.