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US senators ask automakers to join Calif. deal on tougher car standards

A group of 30 U.S. senators urged automakers to join a deal between California and four major car companies, including Ford Motor Co., to maintain tougher fuel-efficiency targets as the Trump administration prepares to freeze national car standards for upcoming model years.

The voluntary agreement, which California reached in late July with Ford, Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Volkswagen AG and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, largely seeks to preserve fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light-duty trucks established under the Obama administration. Participating automakers have billed the deal as a way to preserve a single, 50-state framework for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

"The California agreement is a commonsense framework that provides flexibility to the industry to meet tailpipe standards while also taking important steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money on fuel for consumers," the lawmakers said in an Aug. 6 letter to General Motors Co. Chairman and CEO Mary Barra and the heads of 13 other car manufacturers.

The letter was signed by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and 29 other senators, including Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The Obama administration reached a deal with California to raise corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards for cars and light-duty trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2025. But the Trump administration in 2018 announced that it would ease those requirements to reflect consumer preferences and lower oil price projections.

As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are close to finalizing a rule that would freeze the CAFE standards at 37 miles per gallon through model year 2026. The administration also has proposed revoking California's waiver under the Clean Air Act to set its own tough emissions rules for the transportation sector.

California already sued the EPA over the agency's April 2018 finding that the Obama-era standards were not appropriate and has promised to fight the Trump administration's final CAFE rule. And under its July deal with the four automakers, California agreed to extend to 2026 its current 2025 model year greenhouse gas emission standard and ease the original greenhouse gas reduction requirement to 3.7% over five years from the prior mandate of 4.7% over four years. The deal would result in a fleetwide CAFE standard of roughly 50 miles per gallon by 2026, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols said.

The pact also would reward companies that sell more electric vehicles with additional credits to meet California's greenhouse gas standard than the original Obama-era rules.

EPA spokesperson Michael Abboud called the July agreement a "PR stunt" and said California regulators repeatedly refused to produce "reasonable and responsible proposals" despite the administration's efforts to work with the state on a solution.