The Philippine Star

A cruel par­ody of an­titrust en­force­ment

The Jus­tice Depart­ment is rough­ing up Mr. Trump’s po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies and threat­en­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

- The New York Times ed­i­to­rial U.S. News · Automotive Industry · Climate Change · Industries · Ecology · Donald Trump · Philippines Department of Justice · White House · United States of America · U.S. government · Ford Motor Company · BMW · North America · Volkswagen · Mike Honda · California · Barack Obama · Puerto Rico · The German government · Mercedes-Benz · Volkswagen Group of America

Pres­i­dent Trump’s Jus­tice Depart­ment – for it is in­creas­ingly clear that the depart­ment has been re­duced to an arm of the White House – has opened an an­titrust in­ves­ti­ga­tion of four auto com­pa­nies that had the temer­ity to defy the pres­i­dent by vol­un­tar­ily agree­ing to re­duce auto emis­sions be­low the level re­quired by cur­rent fed­eral law.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is an act of bul­ly­ing, plain and sim­ple: a nakedly po­lit­i­cal abuse of au­thor­ity.

The depart­ment is sup­posed to pre­vent com­pa­nies from act­ing in their own in­ter­est at the ex­pense of the pub­lic. The four au­tomak­ers, by con­trast, are act­ing in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

That the gov­ern­ment of the United States would fight to loosen emis­sions stan­dards in the face of the grow­ing threat posed by cli­mate change also bog­gles the mind. Not con­tent to fid­dle while the planet burns, Mr. Trump is fan­ning the flames.

Ford, BMW North Amer­ica, Volk­swa­gen Group of Amer­ica and Honda struck a deal with the State of Cal­i­for­nia in July. They agreed to reach an av­er­age fuel ef­fi­ciency stan­dard of at least 51 miles per gal­lon by 2026. That falls short of an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion rule that would have re­quired av­er­age fuel ef­fi­ciency of 54.5 miles per gal­lon by 2025. But it is cer­tainly bet­ter than the goal of 37 miles per gal­lon fa­vored by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Trump re­acted to the deal with pre­dictable fury. The ad­min­is­tra­tion de­nounced it as a “PR stunt,” and threat­ened to end Cal­i­for­nia’s long­stand­ing au­thor­ity to set its own tougher fuel ef­fi­ciency stan­dards – an at­tempt that would surely end up in court.

Now the ad­min­is­tra­tion has gone fur­ther, fir­ing a shot across the bows of the au­tomak­ers that signed the deal, and of those that might. The Times re­ported the Ger­man gov­ern­ment warned Mercedes-Benz not to join the Cal­i­for­nia agree­ment af­ter learn­ing of the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

An­titrust law grants the gov­ern­ment broad au­thor­ity to po­lice an­ti­com­pet­i­tive prac­tices, and the Jus­tice Depart­ment has dressed up its ac­tions with the fig leaf that the com­pa­nies may have col­luded by col­lec­tively agree­ing to the tougher stan­dards, which could re­sult in higher prices for new cars and light trucks.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is par­tic­u­larly strik­ing be­cause the depart­ment has shown lit­tle in­ter­est in pre­vent­ing cor­po­ra­tions from en­gag­ing in ac­tual an­ti­com­pet­i­tive be­hav­ior. This sum­mer, for ex­am­ple, the depart­ment blessed TMo­bile’s ac­qui­si­tion of Sprint, a deal likely to harm mo­bile phone con­sumers and work­ers, and to im­pede in­no­va­tion.

If the Jus­tice Depart­ment wants to get se­ri­ous about an­titrust en­force­ment, there are plenty of places to get started. This in­ves­ti­ga­tion is an em­bar­rass­ment. It might as well wheel out the statue of Lady Jus­tice and re­place it with a bronze mar­i­onette.

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