The White House is apparently blinking in a contentious lawsuit over fuel efficiency standards, leaving a number of major automakers who had supported the administration in a difficult position.
The administration is considering abandoning a rule that would freeze fuel efficiency requirements at 2020 levels and instead replace it with a rule that would require fleet standing improvements of around 1
The move is the latest twist in a long and complex opposition that initially began as soon as the Trump administration did. The man himself promised on the campaign trail to empty the Environmental Protection Agency and roll back the Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. The chain of events so far has led to a faceoff among car manufacturers as Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and BMW return stricter California guidelines, and General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Hyundai, Mazda, Nissan and Kia stand with the White House against the rule.
History so far …
In 2012 – in the midst of the Obama administration – the EPA adopted a fuel economy standard that would gradually raise the average mileage per gallon rating for most cars to 54.5mpg by 2025 ( about 40mpg under real conditions). The agency finalized that standard in late 2016.
When the Trump administration began in January 2017, it had the rule, like so many other Obama administration policies, an immediate goal in the back. In April 2018, the EPA officially said the standard was too high and started the process to replace the rule with something weaker.
However, California threw a wrench in these plans. Most states cannot set their own fuel efficiency guidelines, but California is a special case. For decades, the state of the disintegrated has had a multi-year renewal that allows it to enforce stricter standards than the federal rule. The consequence of this waiver goes far beyond the Golden State boundaries: the other 49 states may choose to apply California's stricter standards instead of the federal guideline, and at least 16 states have said they will support California's emissions standards instead of supporting the federal chargeback.
In July of this year, four major automakers – Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and BMW – reached an agreement with California. This voluntary framework aims to improve the average fuel efficiency of their entire fleet by 3.7% per year, beginning with the model year 2022.
And then the messy
The President did not exactly welcome this new emissions agreement  with open arms.
In September, all car manufacturers confirmed that they had been contacted by the Department of Justice, which took preliminary steps in an antitrust investigation. The probe tried to determine if the deal included a cartel that unfairly restricted competition, The Wall Street Journal first reported.
Separately from the antitrust probe, EPA and the Department of Transportation sent a letter (PDF) in September to put California regulators "on notice."
"This framework agreement appears to be in violation of federal law," the agencies said. "We urge you to act promptly to separate from 19459027 from the commitments made by the four automakers. These obligations may lead to legal consequences given the limitations laid down by federal law for California's authority."
California Gavin Newsom immediately accused the administration of trying to bully the state, saying, "We remain unscathed. California is up against bullies and will continue to fight for stronger clean car protections that protect the health and safety of our children and families. . "
It escalated quickly …
Mater escalated from there. Days later, both the House and Senate Judiciary Committee tried to investigate the probe. Senator Kamala Harris of California, a Democrat running for the 2020 presidential nomination, said in his letter to the DOJ, "This chain of events raises serious questions about whether federal law enforcement is being used to force the four car manufacturers to abandon efforts to make cleaner , less polluting vehicles. It also raises questions about the Department of Justice machines being used for party political purposes, or in the aftermath of special interest groups opposing themselves to a modest effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. " In response, the Trump administration abolished the waiver California can set its own emissions standard. California, as you might expect, sued back.
California joined 22 other states, as well as several cities, in its lawsuit (PDF) against the administration, arguing that the administration's action "was declared illegal and set aside because it exceeds NHTSA's authority, contrary to Congressional intention and is arbitrary and capricious. "
The suit against California gained allies this week when the other major automakers joined the King on the administration side.