Los Angeles Times

Au­tomaker ex­its pol­lu­tion fight

GM says it will no longer sup­port the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion bat­tle over Cal­i­for­nia air-qual­ity stan­dards.

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Gen­eral Mo­tors Co. is switch­ing sides in the le­gal fight against Cal­i­for­nia’s right to set its own clean-air stan­dards, aban­don­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as the pres­i­dent’s term nears its close.

Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Mary Barra said in a let­ter Mon­day to en­vi­ron­men­tal groups that GM will no longer sup­port the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in its de­fense against a law­suit over its ef­forts against Cal­i­for­nia’s stan­dards. And GM is urg­ing other au­tomak­ers to do the same.

The move is a sign that GM and other au­tomak­ers are an­tic­i­pat­ing big changes when Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Bi­den takes of­fice in Jan­uary. Al­ready at least one other large au­tomaker, Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp., said it may join GM in switch­ing to Cal­i­for­nia’s side.

In her let­ter, Barra wrote that the com­pany agrees with Bi­den’s plan to ex­pand use of elec­tric ve­hi­cles. Last week GM said it is test­ing a new bat­tery chem­istry that will bring down elec­tric ve­hi­cle costs to those of gas-pow­ered ve­hi­cles within five years.

Barra sent the let­ter af­ter a Mon­day morn­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Mary Ni­chols, head of the Cal­i­for­nia Air Re­sources Board, GM said. The board is the state’s air pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tor.

“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,” the let­ter said.

Ni­chols called GM’s an­nounce­ment good news.

“I was pleased to be in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Mary Barra again,” she said. “It’s been awhile since we had talked.”

The news, cou­pled with GM an­nounc­ing it was re­call­ing 7 mil­lion ve­hi­cles and avoid­ing a drawn-out le­gal fight over the is­sue, helped to push the au­tomaker’s shares up 4% Mon­day to $44.77.

Ear­lier in the day, the stock hit $45.16, its high­est level in more than two years. GM’s stock has more than dou­bled in value since April.

Dan Becker of the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, one of the en­vi­ron­men­tal groups Barra wrote to, said GM had been wrong in try­ing to stop Cal­i­for­nia from pro­tect­ing its peo­ple from auto pol­lu­tion.

“Now the other au­tomak­ers must fol­low GM and with­draw sup­port for Trump’s at­tack on clean cars,” he said in an email.

The White House did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, and the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency would say only that it is interestin­g to see the chang­ing po­si­tions of U.S. com­pa­nies.

In a state­ment, Bi­den said GM’s de­ci­sion is en­cour­ag­ing for the econ­omy, the planet and the suc­cess of Amer­i­can auto work­ers.

“GM’s de­ci­sion re­in­forces how short­sighted the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to erode Amer­i­can in­ge­nu­ity and Amer­ica’s de­fenses against the cli­mate threat truly are,” the state­ment said, adding that the rip­ple ef­fects will help the U.S. in­no­vate and cre­ate good-pay­ing union jobs.

Last year Gen­eral Mo­tors, Fiat Chrysler, Toy­ota and 10 smaller au­tomak­ers sided with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in a law­suit over whether Cal­i­for­nia has the right to set its own stan­dards for green­house gas emis­sions and fuel econ­omy.

The com­pa­nies said they would in­ter­vene in a law­suit filed by the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has rolled back na­tional pol­lu­tion and gas mileage stan­dards en­acted while Barack Obama was pres­i­dent.

The group called it­self the Coali­tion for Sus­tain­able Au­to­mo­tive Reg­u­la­tion and also in­cluded Nis­san, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Isuzu, Suzuki, Maserati, McLaren, As­ton-Martin and Fer­rari. The coali­tion said au­tomak­ers were faced with mul­ti­ple over­lap­ping and in­con­sis­tent stan­dards, which it said would drive up costs for con­sumers.

In a state­ment, Toy­ota said it has sup­ported yearover-year in­creases in fuel econ­omy stan­dards, and it joined the coali­tion be­cause most other au­tomak­ers agreed there should be a sin­gle U.S. stan­dard. But the com­pany con­ceded that Bi­den soon will take a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion.

“Given the chang­ing cir­cum­stances, we are as­sess­ing the sit­u­a­tion, but re­main com­mit­ted to our goal of a con­sis­tent, uni­tary set of fuel econ­omy stan­dards ap­pli­ca­ble in all 50 states,” Toy­ota said.

The ini­tial move put the coali­tion au­tomak­ers at odds with five other com­pa­nies — BMW, Ford, Volk­swa­gen, Volvo and Honda — that backed Cal­i­for­nia and en­dorsed stricter emis­sions and fuel econ­omy stan­dards than pro­posed by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. About a dozen other states fol­low Cal­i­for­nia’s stan­dards.

In Septem­ber 2019, Trump an­nounced his ad­min­is­tra­tion would seek to re­voke Cal­i­for­nia’s con­gres­sion­ally granted author­ity to set stan­dards that are stricter than those is­sued by fed­eral reg­u­la­tors. The move came af­ter Ford, BMW, Honda, Volk­swa­gen and later Volvo signed a deal with Cal­i­for­nia, which had been at odds with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for months.

Many au­tomak­ers have said in the past that they sup­port in­creas­ing the stan­dards but not as much as those af­firmed in the wan­ing days of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2016.

Un­der the Obama re­quire­ments, the fleet of new ve­hi­cles would have to av­er­age 30 mpg in real-world driv­ing by 2021, ris­ing to 36 mpg in 2025. Those in­creases would be about 5% a year. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan in­creased fuel econ­omy by 1.5% a year, back­ing off an ear­lier pro­posal to freeze the re­quire­ments at 2021 lev­els.

Au­tomak­ers say that be­cause buy­ers are switch­ing to larger trucks and SUVs, many com­pa­nies would not be able to meet the stricter stan­dards.

 ?? Paul Sancya As­so­ci­ated Press ?? GM SHARES reached a two-year high Mon­day as CEO Mary Barra urged com­peti­tors to fol­low suit.
Paul Sancya As­so­ci­ated Press GM SHARES reached a two-year high Mon­day as CEO Mary Barra urged com­peti­tors to fol­low suit.

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