In a politically-charged reversal, General Motors announced Monday that it has abandoned the Trump administration’s attack on California’s authority to set automobile standards that reduce greenhouse gases.
General Motors chairman and CEO Mary Barra said the company was immediately pulling its support from the Trump administration in court battles against California and environmental groups because it supports President-elect Joe Biden’s plans to expand electrification of cars. Barra called California Gov. Gavin Newsom to inform him of the news.
“Given this shared enthusiasm and the President-elect’s call to bring the country back together, we believe there is now a path to achieve agreement on a national standard and complementary policies to accelerate the electrification of the light-duty transportation sector,” Barra wrote in a letter to major environmental groups.
The announcement comes after a four-year battle over federal rollbacks of Obama-era rules that curb greenhouse gases and smog-forming emissions from cars.
The Trump administration set new, less stringent fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards in March after stripping California of its unique authority to set its own standards. California and major environmental groups are fighting the rollbacks in court, and General Motors, along with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Toyota and others backed the Trump administration in the suit last fall.
Now, with Biden just months away from entering the White House, automakers are adjusting to the new political reality, said Julia Stein, supervising attorney at UCLA’s Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic.
“What this letter seems to me to signal is that everybody else in the industry now realizes there’s a change of administration that is going to set new standards,” Stein said. “And they are going to be more aggressive — much more aggressive — than what the Trump administration has set.”
Stein suspects that the Biden administration will petition to press pause on the lawsuits as it works to roll back the rollbacks. (The Biden-Harris transition team did not respond to a request for comment.)
And in the meantime, Stein sees this letter as a signal that GM wants to come back to the table.
“It seems like a little bit of an olive branch to me,” Stein said. “Like, ‘Okay, we see this is going to be a conversation about what happens next in terms of the fuel economy standards, and we want to be part of that conversation.’”
Barra said in her letter that she hoped other automakers would follow GM’s lead.
“To better foster the necessary dialogue, we are immediately withdrawing from the preemption litigation and inviting other automakers to join us,” Barra wrote.
Other automakers did not take immediate action.
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