GM has agreed to recognize California’s authority to set vehicle emissions standards under the Clean Air Act. Well, isn’t that magnanimous of the company, to allow the state government to pass its own laws?
For those of you who’ve just joined us: In 2017, major automakers asked the incoming US president to water down federal fuel economy regulations, and the administration enthusiastically complied. Part of the strategy was to strip California of its authority to set its own, more stringent emissions standards, which the state has been doing since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1963. In 2019, a group of automakers, including Ford, Honda, BMW and VW, made a compromise with California under which they would accept standards that were in between the former standards and the proposed weakened standards. GM, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler sided with Trump. In response, California announced that state agencies would no longer buy vehicles from these companies. (California said it purchased $58.6 million worth of General Motors vehicles between 2016 and 2018.)
With the election of President Biden in 2020, the federal government’s attempt to revoke California’s emission-regulating authority ended. GM immediately made a 180-degree course correction, and declared that “the ambitious electrification goals of the president-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions.”
So now, here we are in the present. The EPA recently finalized a set of new auto emissions standards, California plans to ban the sale of new gas-burning passenger vehicles starting in 2035 (a step the Biden administration has not endorsed), and GM itself has declared that it too will go all-electric by 2035.
GM’s latest move is basically a legal formality, but one that was apparently necessary in order to put an official end to California’s boycott of its vehicles. GM sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, in which it promised that it was “committed to complying with California’s regulations.”
“We are committed to working in collaboration with California to achieve an equitable transportation future,” said GM’s Global Public Policy Chief Omar Vargas.
“GM is joining California in our fight for clean air and emission reduction as part of the company’s pursuit of a zero-emissions future,” said Governor Newsom. “This agreement will help accelerate California’s nation-leading commitment to tackling the climate crisis.”