WASHINGTON -- Canada and the state of California on Wednesday said they had signed a memorandum of understanding to advance cleaner vehicles and fuels.
The most populous U.S. state and Canada said they will work together "to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission vehicles like electric cars" and share technical information and best practices in regulating cleaner fuels, as California does today though its Low-Carbon Fuel Standard.
The announcement comes as the Trump administration has proposed barring California from regulating vehicle emissions or requiring a rising number of zero emission vehicles.
Canada is reviewing its vehicle emissions standards. The Trump administration in August 2018, after a similar review, proposed freezing fuel efficiency requirements at 2020 levels, a rollback of standards announced during the Obama administration.
The administration plans in the coming months to finalize a dramatic rewrite of fuel efficiency standards through 2026 that would also strip California, which wants stricter rules to fight climate change, of the right to set its own, tougher emissions rules.
The Obama-era rules called for a fleetwide fuel efficiency average of 46.7 mpg by 2026, compared with 37 mpg under the Trump administration’s preferred option.
Earlier this month, 17 major automakers including General Motors, Volkswagen Group and Toyota Motor Corp. urged the White House to resume talks with California to avoid a lengthy legal battle.
On Tuesday, four U.S. House lawmakers led by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) again urged California and the Trump administration to meet to try to reach an agreement to maintain nationwide rules.
Canada is working toward having 100 percent of all light-duty vehicles sold be zero-emissions by 2040. Canada is offering a rebate of up to $5,000 Canadian ($3,812) for qualifying zero-emission vehicles and other tax incentives for businesses that want to upgrade to zero-emission fleets.
California allocated $238 million in its 2019 budget for incentives to purchase electric and fuel cell vehicles.
California's zero-emission rules have been adopted by nine other states and Colorado has said it plans to adopt them. The Trump administration would bar the states from requiring them.
California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard went into effect in 2011 and has displaced 3.3 billion gallons of petroleum-based fuels with low-carbon alternatives including renewable diesel, electricity and renewable natural gas.
Canada is developing a Clean Fuel Standard that will cut emissions by 30 million tons in 2030 – equivalent to taking 7 million cars off the road.
The Global Automakers of Canada, which represents the Canadian interests of its 15 automakers from Europe, Japan and Korea, said it is concerned by the memorandum of understanding between Canada and California.
"Our concern is that today's announcement appears to be putting the cart before the horse," GAC President David Adams said in a statement. "The situation with respect to emission standards for light duty cars and trucks through 2025 in the United States has not been settled yet, and Canada's current regulations incorporate by reference those same standards.”
The GAC said it believes one North American greenhouse-gas standard for light-duty vehicles provides the best opportunity for emission reductions from vehicles while ensuring the broadest selection of vehicles are available to Canadians at the lowest possible cost.
"While we appreciate that the federal government might wish to pursue more aggressive standards than those of the United States, we support the actions of our industry associations in the United States that have appealed to the President to continue with responsible – yet challenging – emission reduction targets that would also be acceptable to California…to preserve one national standard in the U.S. and effectively North America."
The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the interests of the Detroit 3 automakers in Canada, is also concerned with Canada’s decision to side with California.
“We continue to support the single national standard in the United States on the basis that is provides efficiencies and economies of scale, making many technologies more affordable to consumers on both sides of the border,” CVMA President Mark Nantais said in an interview with Automotive News Canada.
However, Nantais was quick to note that “nowhere does it say in the MOU that Canada will sign with California or adopt California standards.”
But he did wonder why Canada, the U.S., and Mexico spent nearly two years renegotiating a new North American free trade pact in part to harmonize several elements of the auto industry only to see Canada now move away from harmonization on vehicle emissions standards.
-- Greg Layson of Automotive News Canada contributed to this story.