Will automakers bear disproportionate burden for tackling climate change?

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Could Big Oil be a bigger winner in the roll-back of emissions than car manufacturers? Photo credit: Bloomberg

WASHINGTON – The massive attack by President Donald Trump on the climate change policy of his predecessor is now fully visible. And that could put car manufacturers in trouble.

The most recent step came last week, when the EPA proposed weakened inspection regulations to prevent methane from leaking, a powerful greenhouse gas, in oil and gas wells. In August, the agency published its intention to scrap President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants. The Interior Department is also expected to cancel a restriction on deliberate deaeration and combustion of methane from drilling operations.

Meanwhile, the board is working to reduce emissions and fuel saving standards for passenger vehicles that have been built in the next decade.

It is no surprise. Trump and his top advisers reject the scientific consensus that people are the main cause of the greenhouse effect. Their highest priority is reducing bureaucracy and costs for business.

So much so that they are willing to live with an ideological contradiction: the Trump administration wants to confirm federal supremacy to establish national air quality standards when it comes to car emissions, but for methane emissions it is fortunate that it is standards at state level apply instead of federal. Whatever is needed to make the standards slacker than before.

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But it is unclear how many car companies will benefit from relaxing standards for exhaust emissions. For some observers, the biggest winners are petroleum companies that can sell more oil and petrol.

Yes, the auto industry has lobbied for flexibility in complying with rules to avoid possible fines and certain technology costs, but most car companies want changes that are modest enough to maintain a single national program, with California recognizing federal standards as equivalent to its own strict standards.

The aggressive proposal from the Trump government now has civil servants in California and a dozen partner countries, swearing car manufacturers to stick to the requirements of the state, a costly scenario that could force car manufacturers to different cars for different markets. produce and sell.

Automakers are under pressure to negotiate a compromise with California – the EPA and NHTSA that have apparently washed their hands of the case – which might save the only program.

But here's the problem: if car manufacturers continue their earthly rhetoric, stick to environmental regulations and develop electric vehicles, and make a California-compliant compromise, they will unilaterally – and disproportionately – bear the burden of reducing air pollution. , while other industries escape those costs?

Automakers could exert an external pressure on profits avoided by the publicly traded energy and energy company, because none of them is forced to voluntarily adhere to the existing rules.

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Automakers do not have the luxury to refuse. In contrast to energy companies, they have to compete globally and investments in clean cars are needed if companies want to do business in places such as China and Europe, where combustion engines are slowly removed from existence.

So they should remain part of the solution while the problem becomes much bigger.