General Motors is changing sides in a battle over whether states — and specifically California — can set tailpipe emissions regulations and other rules meant to mitigate climate change that are stricter than the federal government.
The automaker said Monday it will no longer back the Trump administration’s lawsuit to prevent California from setting its own rules, Reuters reported. CEO Mary Barra reportedly sent a letter to several environmental groups stating that the automaker was “immediately withdrawing from the preemption litigation” and is inviting other automakers to join it.
The decision is a reversal for the automaker, which along with competitors Fiat Chrysler and Toyota sided with the Trump administration last year over the issue. With President-elect Joe Biden just weeks away from taking office, this reversal falls into the strategic category. It also follows GM’s decision to spend $27 billion over the next five years on the development of electric vehicles and automated technology in an effort to bring products to market faster.
The issue of “states rights” are at the center of the legal standoff between Trump and California. Under the Clean Air Act, California does have the authority to set its own clean air regulations. The state’s Air Resources Board called for a 2.7% year-over-year fuel efficiency increase through 2026 even as the Trump administration set out to roll back Obama-era rules on fuel economy standards.
The automotive industry was split on the issue. BMW, Ford, Honda and Volkswagen of America reached a deal with California regulators to adhere to stricter emissions rules, while GM, FCA and Toyota joined the industry group Association of Global Automakers.
Automakers that sided with Trump have been criticized, and not just by the usual climate and environmental advocates. Ford joined in as well, going as far as airing an ad campaign in September called “California Innovation” that trolled GM brand Chevy, FCA’s Jeep and Toyota for not agreeing to the stricter emissions framework.