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Trump attacks California and carmakers over emissions deal, warns of ‘business ruin’

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See how California's top-selling vehicles stack up when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. The state's car culture is undermining its effort to fight climate change.
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See how California's top-selling vehicles stack up when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. The state's car culture is undermining its effort to fight climate change.

President Donald Trump lashed out at the state of California publicly on Wednesday, a day after a new report detailed his private fury over the state’s deal with four leading carmakers to reduce air pollution.

In a pair of tweets directed at the carmakers that have been negotiating with California on emissions standards, the president declared that “Henry Ford would be very disappointed if he saw his modern-day descendants wanting to build a much more expensive car, that is far less safe and doesn’t work as well, because execs don’t want to fight California regulators.”

“Car companies should know that when this Administration’s alternative is no longer available, California will squeeze them to a point of business ruin,” Trump continued. “Only reason California is now talking to them is because the Feds are giving a far better alternative, which is much better for consumers!”

The tweets are presumably a response to a New York Times article, published Tuesday, that reported on the White House’s anger over California’s move to circumvent new regulations the administration is writing and cut its own deal with automakers.

Ford, Honda, BMW of North America and Volkswagen Group announced an agreement with the California Air Resources Board in July to restrict greenhouse gas emissions – a key driver of climate change – for car models built through 2026. Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols told reporters at the time that “We hope and expect in the coming days that we will see other companies joining.”

While negotiations are ongoing, no other major carmakers has announced it is joining the agreement yet.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office declined to speculate on how soon other car companies are poised to join.

“We’re focused on providing this alternative,” Newsom spokesman Nathan Click told McClatchy. “It’s an example of California leading the nation, California and a number of other states providing an alternative to Donald Trump’s reckless climate policies.”

The White House, meanwhile, has been reportedly pressuring the automakers that are not yet part of the state deal to cut off talks with California.

And administration officials insist they are moving ahead with a rollback of the emissions standards the Obama administration finalized in 2012, a new regulation that is expected to be finalized this fall.

In a release pushing back on the New York Times story, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called the regulatory change “a top priority for EPA and the Trump Administration.”

“When implemented, the rule will benefit all Americans by improving the U.S. fleet’s fuel economy, reducing air pollution, and making new vehicles more affordable for all Americans,” the statement continued.

The administration’s efforts to weaken the Obama-era standards, which set aggressive new fuel standards in new cars, are what ultimately drove carmakers and California regulators together, however.

California is seeking to preserve its waiver authority, granted under the Clean Air Act of 1970, to set its own emissions standards, beyond what the federal government establishes. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have since followed California’s lead.

Carmakers, meanwhile, fear Trump’s new, more relaxed emission rule will prompt a lengthy legal fight, which will lead to a patchwork of regulatory standards across the country. In June, a coalition of car manufacturers wrote a letter to the White House pleading with them to restart negotiations with California on a compromise. The automakers argued that uncertainty over the rules could create chaos as they begin designing models for the next decade.

California officials said that after the White House dismissed their plea, several carmakers then approached the state about working out a deal that could result in a higher fuel economy standard, regardless of the White House’s regulatory moves.

Sophia Bollag contributed to this report.

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and policy for McClatchy’s California readers. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.
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