March 6, 2019 / 4:17 PM / 20 days ago

White House pressures automakers on fuel rules, blocking California: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is pressuring automakers to back its effort to roll back Obama-era fuel economy standards and bar California from setting its own emissions standards or requiring electric vehicles, sources with direct knowledge of the talks said Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO - A California car smog check center is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Last Friday, White House officials met with senior lobbyists from General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and urged them to back the Trump administration’s effort.

Last month, the White House said it had ended talks with California aimed at trying to reach a consensus on fuel efficiency requirements.

The administration said in August its preferred plan was to freeze fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels through 2026. Administration officials told automakers last month they hope to finalize the proposal released by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by May or June.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

GM spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said the company “appreciates the administration’s efforts to continue dialogue with automakers. At the meeting General Motors stressed the importance for one national program as well as our commitment to an all-electric future.”

Ford and Fiat Chrysler declined to comment.

Some administration officials have suggested the White House could abandon the effort to freeze the Obama rules if automakers are not supportive, but others are skeptical the administration would drop one of its most important deregulatory measures.

At least one automaker at the meeting urged the White House to reopen talks with California, but administration officials said they did not plan to do so. In February, the administration held a call with a wider group of automakers and urged them to side with the administration rather than California.

Automakers have publicly stated they do not back a freeze but think the requirements should rise but be reduced to account for changes in oil prices and consumer demand.

According to people briefed on the meeting, some of the auto officials expressed some support for preempting California’s rules, but to date no automaker has publicly endorsed the idea.

Some administration officials have questioned why automakers have not been more supportive of eliminating significant regulatory costs.

California Air Resource Board chief Mary Nichols said last month the Trump administration decided “to put an end to any effort to find common ground - but it is a signal to us to stand our ground.”

Automakers worry that without a deal, they will face potentially years of uncertainty as lawsuits leave them unclear on what requirements they will need to meet.

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A group of 20 U.S. states and several major cities has already promised to sue and called the Trump administration proposal “unlawful” and “reckless.”

Another White House meeting is planned for this month with regulators to discuss how the administration should move forward.

Some automakers are also pushing the Trump administration to leave in place or boost credits for building electric vehicles, but some administration officials do not like credits because they think it unfairly gives certain vehicles advantages over others.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and James Dalgleish

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