General Motors announced on Sunday that it would recognize California’s authority to set new Clean Air Act vehicle emissions standards, ending a years long battle between federal and state-level laws on acceptable emissions from vehicles.
For years, especially during the Trump administration, GM, along with Toyota and Fiat Chrysler, sided with the federal government in backing a uniform federal emissions standards rather than states, such as California, having differing, tougher standards. Former President Trump and the EPA attempted to revoke California’s standards in September of 2019, only for former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to sue the EPA only days afterwards. By October 2019, car companies had largely settled on whether they supported the Federal standards or the California standards, leading to many Californian lawmakers to speak out against the brewing battle. The next month, the state halted all purchases of new vehicles from the companies backing the federal standards, costing GM tens of millions in sales.
In December 2019, the Trump administration tried to remove the lawsuit, only for it to be tied up in litigation going into 2020. That September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an Executive Order phasing out all new gas-powered vehicle sales in California by 2035, further drawing a line in the sand on emissions. However, following President Joe Biden’s victory in November 2020, GM CEO Mary Barra radically shifted GM’s plans, instead backing California’s standards as a result. Despite the shift, GM continued to fall behind in the hybrid and electric market, with Toyota now poised to take over as the nation’s new largest automaker.
GM and California emissions standards
With GM in dire straits, the company finally agreed to California’s standards, making 2022 the first year since 2019 that California could buy GM vehicles for their government fleet. In a letter to Governor Newsom, GM said that they are now “committed to complying with California’s regulations.” GM paired Sunday’s announcement with an earlier announcement by GM this month that all tailpipe emissions from light-duty vehicles would be eliminated by 2035, matching California’s emissions goals.
“We are committed to working in collaboration with California to achieve an equitable transportation future,” said GM’s global public policy chief Omar Vargas on Sunday.
“GM knows that the market of the future, and especially in a major market like California, is electric,” said Michael Gonzales, a transportation consultant to local and county transportation authorities, to the Globe on Monday. “They have also been cut off from government orders in the last few years, during a pandemic no less, with many regions favoring Toyota’s, Hondas, or other brands. GM wants to get back on good terms and show how they’re going electric, and this is one of those steps.”
“It’s playing catch-up and not wanting to lose any more market share. And also trying to come back somewhat in California. Toyota wasn’t hit very hard since they already had an electric foothold and have a huge presence. GM though, they personally angered the state. Things won’t be going back to normal overnight with them simply agreeing to California’s standards.”
More states are expected to follow California-level emissions standards in the coming years as more state Governments enact carbon-free initiatives across the country.