A deal struck by carmakers and California regulators is good news also for Washington state and the planet.
In the voluntary agreement announced late last month, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW agreed to increase their fleets’ fuel efficiency to an average 51 miles per gallon by 2026. That would increase the industry average by 50% and reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
The targets are less ambitious than those set by the Obama administration, which sought an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Still, they are a whole lot better than the freeze proposed by the current administration. Leaders at the four automakers, which account for 30% of the domestic U.S. market, say they hope the agreement will push their competitors to adopt similar standards — and they should.
Automakers got more than they hoped for when they asked President Donald Trump for a break on ambitious fuel efficiency standards set in 2012, which then-President Barack Obama called “the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” Rather than ease off the accelerator, Trump administration officials slammed the brakes, proposing to freeze fuel efficiency targets for five years beginning next year. Seventeen states, including Washington, have challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal in court, arguing it violates the Clean Air Act.
In an attempt to create some certainty, 17 companies signed on to a letter asking the administration to work with California to devise a single standard. Those talks broke down in February, leading the four automotive companies to negotiate directly with the Golden State.
Better fuel efficiency is an important interim step toward weaning our country from fossil fuel dependency. Transportation accounts for nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Washington is one of about a dozen states that follow California’s emission standards.
The EPA also is expected to challenge California’s right to set those standards, an exemption as old as the 1963 Clean Air Act, and the rights of other states to follow suit.
An EPA spokesman brushed off last month’s agreement as a “PR stunt.” Rather, the deal shows the power of states and private business to decisively work to combat climate change regardless of whether the Oval Office is on board.