Will President Trump Put A Wet Blanket On the US Electric Car Movement?

Is the United States on its way toward Who Killed the Electric Car, part 2?

That’s unknown, but this week the U.S. EPA is expected to begin a process intended to roll back Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards calling for increasingly stringent tailpipe emissions through 2025, and while it’s at it California is also in federal sites.

California’s waiver letting it set its own clean air rules is also a threat to a new agenda to relax rules automakers say could cost them as much as $200 billion by 2025.

The move would come in the name of regulatory reform, and be headed by the EPA’s new administrator Scott Pruitt installed by President Trump.

Trump, who denies climate change is caused by man, and who has turned his ear to letters sent by all the major carmakers doing business in U.S., is reportedly sympathetic with reversing a regulatory climate set by former president Barack Obama.

SEE ALSO: Automakers Ask Trump Transition Team to Consider Reforming Fuel Economy and Emissions Rules

Last month, Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers representing 77 percent of U.S. auto manufacturers, wrote to Pruitt the CAFE rules are “the product of egregious procedural and substantive defects.”

And, he added, they are “riddled with indefensible assumptions, inadequate analysis and a failure to engage with contrary evidence.”

Whether the process to reverse federal rules could be a swift one, or a lengthy battle with environmentalists has been up in the air. It is more certain that if zero emission rules set by California’s Air Resources Board rules come under attack, the state and supporters would fight tooth and nail.

The New York Times, citing “people familiar with the matter,” said dismantling federal standards calling for fleet average fuel economy to be around 40 mpg by 2025 “will be much more legally simple.”

Americans have preferred trucks and SUVs in light of inexpensive gas. These are most profitable for carmakers.

Step one could be to withdraw the Obama administration’s determination on 2022-2025 rules after which the Trump administration would have a year to set alternative standards.

Speaking on NPR today, EV advocate Chelsea Sexton likened the threat by automakers emboldened by Trump’s known policy direction to a major setback for electric cars.

Advocates like Sexton, who was a star in the original “Who Killed the Electric Car” documentary, have long fought the war of spin on what the real truth is on cars that run partly or fully on batteries.

SEE ALSO: Are Consumers Being Manipulated By Anti-Electric Car Propaganda?

Their purpose is to reduce America’s reliance on a near monopoly energy source – petroleum – and attendant emissions that are not only blamed on climate change, but also simply human health.

Without citing a source, NPR moderator Sonari Glinton let loose one talking point that’s become part of the counter-rhetoric by those who question the efficacy of EVs to solve America’s energy and environmental needs.

“When GM makes a Silverado, they make thousands of dollars … when they make a Chevy Volt, they lose money,” said Glinton to Sexton. “What you are saying is, if these regulations are rolled back, it’s the new death of the electric car.”

That is one possibility, said Sexton, who is out in front of the expected continued war of words and ideology that is brewing.

“Even some of the more aggressive automakers are likely to roll back their plans,” said Sexton, “…we get the same kind of ‘ah shucks we tried as hard as we could, consumers just don’t want those EVs yet, maybe we’ll come back later.’”

But before declaring doom, there will be a fight said the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Roland Hwang.

“The Trump administration cannot with a stroke of a pen roll back federal clean car standards or take away California’s authority to implement his own standards,” he said. “To change either, they need to notify, allow public comment, before rendering a decision. If they try to rollback federal or CA standards, we’ll see them in court.”

At this stage, eyes are on what will happen after the Trump administration begins its power play.

Hwang said the most likely scenario is for Trump to direct the EPA to do a “redo” of the EPA’s 2022-2025 final determination as the first step in attempting to rollback the federal and likely California standards.

A best case scenario Hwang said, is to leave things in place, as organization like the NRDC, and even Consumer Reports have come out in favor of rules as good for the economy, global competiveness, and consumers.

Notable is the U.S. is part of a broader global market and other nations are moving forward rapidly with rules of their own that are akin to present U.S. federal rules. How it would work out that the U.S. could become a relative backwater is uncertain.

Really, many potential twists and turns may only be known in time, and Hwang was not willing to predict a worst case scenario.

“The worse case scenario is – well who really knows?” said Hwang. “If the Trump administration really attempts a wholesale dismantling of federal and California clean car standards then they will be likely facing years of litigation and chaos, of their own making. This will be problematic for the auto industry who needs certainty for their planning. This not only puts clean air and climate progress at risk, but also jobs in factories across the U.S. involved in manufacturing clean car technologies.”

As for the California question, this too is a wild card question.

“The EPA has never rescinded a California waiver. It would be unprecedented and face vigorous pushback by states, NRDC and others, in court,” said Hwang. “There is no factual or legal basis for EPA to rescind the waiver. Weakening the federal standards is certainly no basis to revoke California authority. The entire premise of California’s separate motor vehicle authority is that it’s more stringent, or at least as stringent, as federal standards.”

But this is precisely why the Trump administration would go after California. Its zero emission rules act as a de facto second set of requirements for U.S. carmakers to keep the EV agenda going.

SEE ALSO: CAFE Hearings Focus Opposing Viewpoints

By 2025 ZEV rules could mandate as many as one in seven cars sold in California be zero emission. California is the country’s largest car market, and as many as a dozen states have piggybacked on some or all of its rules.

SEE ALSO: CAFE Rules: Only 1-3 percent of cars need to be electric by 2025

This would force carmakers to still have to create cars for those markets, which they have been doing already. To more fully relieve automakers from requirements, California’s rules would need to be neutralized also.

But this would not go down without a fight.

“If they significantly weaken the federal standards or try to take away California’s waiver, it will certainly be a protracted battle. It would be a long, bumpy road to roll back the standards,” said Hwang. “The Trump EPA needs to go through a long process of rewriting the determination, the standard and the California waiver decision, if they choose to go there all this takes time. And then there is litigation. So we are talking about years which puts the auto industry in bind to plan for 2022 compliance.”

The federal rules meanwhile are not only about plug-in cars, but speak to all cars becoming incrementally cleaner. The plug-ins help raise the average score for automaker fleets just like an A student does in a class average where other students score Bs and Cs.

For his part, Hwang thinks there are far more productive things the Trump administration could tackle if the goal is economic progress.

“Attacking these common sense clear car standards is a losing proposition for the Trump EPA and the automakers,” said Hwang. “It will tie up enormous resources better put to use in investing in innovating and building the next generation of clean car technologies.”


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