WASHINGTON -- California regulators fired back at automakers today on proposed federal fuel economy standards for 2017-25, exposing conflicts that the Obama administration will have to resolve if it is to negotiate an agreement by the fall.
A California Air Resources Board spokesman said today that a letter from the auto industry's main trade group suggests “its intent to back away from its commitment to build the clean cars the nation needs.”
In a letter to key House Republicans this week, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers also tries to slow California efforts to develop fuel efficiency and tailpipe emission standards, another CARB spokesman said.
The state's standards will be meshed with the eventual U.S. rule -- contrary to the trade group's claims, he said.
“We are concerned about the sincerity of the Alliance's commitment to a national program,” CARB spokesman Stanley Young said in an e-mail.
The Alliance struck a conciliatory note today.
"We hope California decides to remain at the table with us," said the group's spokeswoman, Gloria Bergquist.
She said automakers are "committed to working constructively" with California and the Obama administration to develop a national rule.
A dozen states have pledged to adopt California's fuel economy and tailpipe emission standards.
The Alliance's Jan. 11 letter expressed concern about a preliminary federal proposal for automakers to raise the corporate average fuel economy of cars and light trucks to between 47 mpg and 62 mpg by the 2025 model year.
The preliminary plan may underestimate technology costs to automakers and overstate fuel savings to consumers, the letter said.
The automakers also said California was unilaterally pursuing standards outside a national framework, potentially jeopardizing future car sales.
The latest clash will pose challenges for the Obama administration.
The administration plans formally to propose a 2017-25 fuel economy standard by September after consulting with state regulators, automakers and environmental groups.
A final rule is due to be cleared by the administration by July 2012.
The administration followed a similar negotiating framework in announcing a May 2009 agreement that will steadily raise fuel economy standards to 35.5 mpg by 2016.
California waived its right to impose its own rules as part of the May 2009 deal. The state's concession will be observed through 2016 but does not affect negotiations for 2017-25 standards.
Automakers and California regulators have regularly clashed over the state's attempts to set its own pollution standards. The auto industry has long argued that the nation should adopt one standard for fuel economy, tailpipe emissions and other anti-pollution rules.
The alliance's letter was addressed to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
It seeks congressional scrutiny of whatever 2017-25 proposal emerges from the administration after the multiparty talks.