WASHINGTON — Automakers seeking to protect a nationwide clean-car program against the Trump administration's proposed rollback of fuel economy and emissions standards may find an ally in the nation's electric utilities.
The administration's aggressive proposal to freeze fuel economy standards at 2020 levels has left automakers worried that they will be left out of step with California regulations, which are followed by a dozen other states. They fear they will have to shoulder the expense of engineering cars to two separate standards or forgo sales of some models in some of the biggest auto markets. That has led to calls for a negotiated deal between automakers and California to head off such an outcome and set a de facto national standard.
But what would such a compromise look like? The White House initiative, which also would rescind California's power to set its own emissions rules, doesn't seem to leave much middle ground.
One little-noticed idea was advanced by the National Coalition for Advanced Transportation, which is pushing for policies that encourage adoption of electric vehicles. Its 16 members are mostly power and utility companies but also include businesses that supply batteries and electric charging infrastructure, along with the ultimate EV booster, Tesla Inc.
Utilities, like other members of the coalition, are looking at the prospect of increased revenue as automakers adopt more electrified powertrains.
In a May 31 letter to the California Air Resources Board, the industry group recommended an alternative path by which automakers could meet California's rules: voluntarily taking certain steps nationwide that show sustained, robust investment in EVs and other advanced powertrain technologies that effectively reduce pollution levels as California intended.
"We believe that it is conceptually the logical path forward if the federal standard is considerably weakened, because it's one of the only ways to accommodate everyone's collective interest" in a harmonized national system while providing automakers some additional flexibility, Robert Wyman, a partner at Latham & Watkins and the coalition's outside counsel, told Automotive News.
Wyman also participates on the EPA's Clean Air Act federal advisory committee.
So far, he said, there has been little response, but he remained optimistic that the proposal eventually will serve as the basis for a constructive dialogue among key parties.