Stellantis, Toyota drop out of Trump lawsuit against California emission rules

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — Stellantis NV, Toyota Motor Corp., and other major automakers have dropped out of the legal battle between the federal government and California over the state's right to set its own standards for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy rules. 

The group — which also includes Subaru, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi and the National Automobile Dealers Association — sided with former President Donald Trump in a lawsuit over his efforts to roll back emissions and gas mileage standards and strip California's power to set its own emission standards. The automakers argued unified, nationwide standards would provide needed stability.

Now the group, called the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation, said it is aligned with President Joe Biden's goals to "achieve year-over-year improvements" in fuel economy standards "that provide meaningful climate and national energy security benefits."

"In a gesture of good faith and to find a constructive path forward, the CSAR has decided to withdraw from this lawsuit in order to unify the auto industry behind a single national program, with ambitious, achievable standards."

Traffic flows on California 110 on Monday, May 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. Americans are slowly getting back on the road after hunkering down amid the coronavirus pandemic, though driving still is well below what it was before many states issued stay-at-home orders.

General Motors Co. was part of the group since it was created in 2019, but abruptly dropped out of the lawsuit weeks after Biden was elected, arguing its goals were in line with the administration's. 

Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., Volkswagen AG and others sided in the suit with California and the dozen or so other states that typically follow the Golden State's lead after striking a deal with the state on reduced emissions.

As of 2019, California accounted for at least 12 percent of the U.S. auto market. It's the most populous state in the United States and wields immense influence over environmental standards due to a legal carveout for the state in the 1970s-era Clean Air Act law that allows it to set stricter standards than the federal government.

In recent years, more than a dozen other states have signed on to California's emissions standards for vehicles. The Trump administration moved to roll back federal standards, leaving automakers to scramble to comply with different standards across the U.S. 

Biden has directed his administration to reconsider Trump's plan to stop California from setting its own emission and fuel economy standards, and is expected to reverse the decision, making the lawsuit moot. 

Trump rolled back Obama-era fuel economy rules, which Biden is also expected to reverse. However, it's not clear whether Biden will return to Obama's standards, which were seen by automakers as too aggressive. 

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the leading advocacy group for automakers selling vehicles in the U.S., said in a statement Tuesday morning it hopes to talk with the Biden administration about shared goals, which includes a revised national emissions program that includes California under unified standards. 

The group says it also plans to push for emissions requirements "roughly midway" between the standards implemented by Trump and Obama, and for additional support from the administration for the roll-out of electric vehicles. 

"Our goal is to work collaboratively with the administration to achieve greater environmental improvements than current requirements, sooner, while providing benefits for consumers, creating opportunities for job creation, and strengthening our nation’s economy,” John Bozzella, President and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, said in a statement.

Environmental groups are calling for the Biden administration to create more stringent standards than the Obama administration.

The Sierra Club released a statement saying the automakers' announcement is "a win" for environmental advocates, but that the automakers "peeling off like dominos from Trump’s misguided and dangerous lawsuits don’t deserve praise for doing the bare minimum."

Auto companies should support "strong federal clean car standards beyond what the Trump Administration rolled back," the group said, "instead of clinging to the past."

Twitter: @rbeggin