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Trump administration says California deal with automakers violates federal law


California aiming to avert White House's fuel economy rollback

EPA, DOT lawyers threaten state with 'legal consequences'

Freezing standards would boost US oil demand by 500,000 b/d

Washington — The Trump administration Friday stepped up its attack on California's efforts to preserve its tough vehicle fuel economy targets by calling the state's deal with four major automakers "unlawful" and "invalid."

The top lawyers for the US Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency urged California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols in a letter Friday to dissolve the agreement and threatened "legal consequences."

"The purpose of this letter is to put California on notice that this framework agreement appears to be inconsistent with federal law," they said in a letter. "Congress has squarely vested the authority to set fuel economy standards for new motor vehicles, and nationwide standards for GHG vehicle emissions, with the federal government, not with California or any other state."

The US Department of Justice has launched an antitrust investigation into the four automakers, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The probe is looking into whether Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen "violated federal competition law by agreeing with each other to follow tailpipe-emission standards beyond those proposed by the Trump administration," the report said.

Nichols said in a statement Friday that DOJ "brings its weight to bear against auto companies in an attempt to frighten them out of voluntarily making cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks than EPA wants."

"Consumers might ask, who is Andy Wheeler protecting?" Nichols added, referring to EPA's administrator.

California and the four automakers announced in July they had reached a "voluntary framework" to cut tailpipe emissions annually through 2026 model-year vehicles, delivering the same greenhouse gas reductions as the existing Obama-era standards in five years instead of four.

The deal was an attempt to avert the Trump administration's plan to freeze fuel economy standards over 2022-25, which would increase US oil demand by an estimated 500,000 b/d. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia follow California's tougher standards.

Wheeler has said EPA plans to adopt the final rule later this fall, a target that has been delayed many times.

-- Meghan Gordon,

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson,