U.S. Auto Industry Finally Succumbs to Inevitable Defeat on California Emissions Standards

The Obama administration recently granted California the right to enforce its first-in-the-nation greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks, after announcing plans in May to boost federal fuel efficiency standards.  Thirteen other states will also implement the California emissions standard until 2012 when the U.S. government will adopt the California standards as federal law. 

The move will collectively slash emissions by 30 percent in 2016.

But California’s long overdue victory on emissions standards didn’t come without a protracted legal and public relations effort by the auto industry, which spent untold millions (billions?) trying to derail the California Clean Car program that would reduce global warming pollution from cars and trucks.

Headed up by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers - whose members include Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Chrysler, Toyota, BMW Group, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, and Volkswagen - the auto industry thumbed its nose at customers by fighting against fuel efficiency improvements and denying consumers the choice of highly efficient American vehicles. DeSmogBlog followed this fight in multiple posts over the years, exposing the senior Bush Administration officials who lobbied EPA to deny California’s waiver request, and chronicling the auto industry’s failed legal and public relations efforts.

After battling against fuel economy and emission standards for so long, the beleaguered auto companies appear to have finally relented.  They don’t have much choice given the state of crisis in an industry dependent on billions of dollars in federal money to stay (barely) afloat.

The U.S. auto industry - what’s left of it - should be ashamed to have dragged taxpayers through a grueling eight year battle over what should have been a no-brainer fuel efficiency goal.  Now taxpayers are footing the bill – potentially reaching $50 Billion – to bail out Detroit and help the U.S. auto industry retool plants to build cleaner cars.

Imagine for just a minute how much more cheaply – and quickly – the transition to cleaner cars could have been accomplished had Detroit not fought tooth and nail against every effort to get here.  What a waste of money, time and talent, and then there are the lost jobs, not to mention the lost credibility!

Fran Pavley, the California state senator and architect of the 2001 blueprint for the cleaner car standards, summed up the saga recently.  “It took eight years, multiple federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court, two presidents, two governors and a partridge in a pear tree,” she said in an interview. “What a difference that last presidential election made.”

What a difference indeed.