Capitol Alert

Trump eyes compromise with Newsom on climate, cars. California says it isn’t enough

The Trump administration is opening the door to a new climate change rule that would attempt to tamp down its rancorous fight with California over greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency may issue a rule by year’s end requiring automakers to sell new cars that reduce carbon emissions by 1.5 percent a year through 2025.

Until now, the administration wanted to freeze the standards at 2020 levels for the next five years. But a White House official and an EPA official told McClatchy on Thursday that the Trump administration had not ruled out the 1.5 percent standard, and was still considering its options in the rule making process.

The attempted compromise, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, was essentially dismissed by California officials.

“That 1.5 percent is still not nearly enough for California to meet its air quality and climate goals,” said Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, in an email. He added that California hasn’t heard directly from the Trump administration about the reported compromise.

The Trump administration and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration have been quarreling for months over rules governing greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

A decade ago California made a deal with the Obama administration to cut emissions by about 30 percent on new cars sold between 2020 and 2025. After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, he quickly proposed rolling back those standards, saying they were too onerous for the auto industry.

In September, the administration announced a plan that would cut carbon emissions slightly in 2020 — but go no further. Trump also wants to revoke California’s special authority under federal law to set air-quality standards that are stricter than the federal government’s. California is fighting that in court.

Over the summer, Newsom’s administration announced a deal with four major carmakers — Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW — that Young says would cut emissions about 3.7 percent a year between 2020 and 2026.

That’s considerably more stringent than the 1.5 percent annual cut in emissions contemplated by the White House.

Newsom predicted other carmakers would fall into line. But Trump’s Justice Department launched an antitrust investigation into those four carmakers’ deal with California — and earlier this week most other automakers said they were essentially siding with the Trump administration.

Those automakers, including General Motors and Toyota, announced they were intervening on Trump’s side in a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s moves. They said they were stepping into the case simply to see if Trump and Newsom can find common ground. But Trump then tweeted a thank-you to them “for standing with us for Better, Cheaper, Safer Cars for Americans.”

Why would the White House compromise at all? Julia Stein, a UCLA environmental-law expert, said the administration’s original plan —to freeze the rules in place in 2025 — probably wouldn’t fly in court. “Maybe the administration believes that (compromise) is more legally defensible than a full freeze,” she said.

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Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.
Dale Kasler covers climate change, the environment, economics and the convoluted world of California water. He also covers major enterprise stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. He joined The Bee in 1996 from the Des Moines Register and graduated from Northwestern University.