The federal government and its California counterpart can’t seem to get enough of each other. Like schoolyard bullies, they just keep punching.
The latest dust-up is Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order for his administration to stop purchasing state vehicles from automakers supporting President Trump’s edict on tailpipe emissions.
The crux is that California likes to set its own environmental standards, almost always tougher than those mandated at the federal level, and the feds really don’t appreciate California’s go-it-alone attitude.
What might work out better for everyone would be for Newsom and Trump to lace on the gloves and go a few rounds in the ring. That one would be over quickly, likely within the first few seconds of the bout.
Last month, General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and members of the Global Automakers trade group signed onto the Trump administration's push to prohibit California from setting its own, stricter tailpipe emission standards. The Newsom mandate to stop buying cars from companies that back Trump is retaliation, pure and simple.
It’s an interesting ploy, and one that could cost the affected companies a few dollars. Between 2016 and 2018, California purchased $58.6 million worth of cars and trucks from GM, another $55.8 million from Fiat Chrysler, $10.6 million from Toyota, and $9 million from Nissan.
This is another manifestation of the state’s rights debate that has been raging for generations. The battle pauses during certain presidential administrations, then flares up again when someone else occupies the Oval Office.
It turns out the Trump administration is, in general, not a firm believer in reams of climate science suggesting that tailpipe emissions are, and have been a major contributor to global warming, or that increasing mileage requirements will in any way help humanity, especially from a profit standpoint.
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Three years into the Trump presidency, it is clear that California has taken the lead in the naughty-stepchild competition, as far as the feds are concerned. From challenging the state’s authority to set emissions standards, to threatening to withhold federal funds to help California deal with its wildfire epidemic, these two government giants continue to butt heads. The United States is a world leader economically, but California claims the planet’s fifth-biggest economy. It’s not an insignificant fight.
But using the glass-half-empty/glass-half-full analogy, GM, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan’s loss will be a net gain for other automakers, notably Ford, Honda and others. Presumably, California will spend about the same on vehicles, so the profits will just be flowing in another direction.
The fact is, U.S. automakers really don’t need this sort of grief. The auto industry is extremely competitive, and although GM losing $58 million-plus in sales to California is not catastrophic, it’s another blow to a company that has struggled in the past to survive.
And it’s all so unnecessary. Automakers have the technology to produce cars and trucks that achieve far better fuel efficiency than now required by federal law, and in doing so reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. But that footprint is something the Trump administration has chosen to ignore, satisfying its immediate-gratification tendencies.
The war between the federal and California governments must come to an end, because there are too many casualties, too many individuals’ lives and too many businesses’ interests being endangered.
The big question is — which of the two point men will be the first to compromise, stop hurling insults, become thinking adults and propose a truce?
The short answer is — probably neither one. The tailpipe emissions skirmish is headed for court.