June 15, 2024

California and Major Automakers Reach Groundbreaking Framework Agreement on Clean Emission Standards


As the Trump administration prepares to roll back emission standards for light-duty cars and trucks, a consortium of automakers and California have agreed on a voluntary framework to reduce emissions that can serve as an alternative path forward for clean vehicle standards nationwide. Automakers who agreed to the framework are Ford, Honda, BMW of North America and Volkswagen Group of America.

The framework supports continued annual reductions of vehicle greenhouse gas emissions through the 2026 model year, encourages innovation to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and provides industry the certainty needed to make investments and create jobs. This important commitment means that the auto companies party to the voluntary agreement will only sell cars in the United States that meet these standards.

“Few issues are more pressing than climate change, a global threat that endangers our lives and livelihoods. California, a coalition of states, and these automakers are leading the way on smart policies that make the air cleaner and safer for us all,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “I now call on the rest of the auto industry to join us, and for the Trump administration to adopt this pragmatic compromise instead of pursuing its regressive rule change. It’s the right thing for our economy, our people and our planet.”

Under the framework, gasoline and diesel cars and light trucks will get cleaner through 2026 at about the same rate as the current program. It also supports a national program that will result in at least 30 percent more greenhouse gas emission reductions compared to splitting up the standards between those followed by California and 13 other states and the less stringent standards proposed by the Trump administration.

“This agreement represents a feasible and acceptable path to accomplishing the goals of California and the automobile industry,” said California Air Resources Board Chair Mary D. Nichols. “If the White House does not agree, we will move forward with our current standards but work with individual carmakers to implement these principles. At the same time, if the current federal vehicle standards proposal is finalized, we will continue to enforce our regulations and pursue legal challenges to the federal rule.”

The announcement comes as the Trump administration is preparing to roll back federal vehicle emission standards, effectively freezing them at the 2020 level through the 2026 model year. This move threatens air quality and health for millions of Americans, would increase costs to consumers, and promises to further set back U.S. efforts to combat climate change.

The rollback has faced growing opposition from a broad array of governors and mayors, auto companies, labor, consumer groups, public health organizations, and environmental groups. Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of 24 governors representing more than half the U.S. population came together in calling for a stronger, national clean car standard.

In a letter last month, 17 worldwide automakers appealed to the White House and California to work together on a single national standard, warning of uncertainty for the auto market and noting that auto industry jobs are at stake. Now four of these companies have agreed to a framework that includes annual emission reductions and would speed the transition to electric vehicles.

California urges the Trump administration to reflect the principles in the framework in the vehicle emissions rule it is finalizing. If that does not occur, discussions on the approach laid out in the framework will move ahead.

The terms of the framework will deliver the same greenhouse gas reductions in five years as the original Obama standards would have achieved in four. This provides a path forward that allows California and other states to meet their climate and clean air goals, and maintains a national approach for participating automakers who will sell these cleaner cars nationwide. The framework also supports the long-term electrification goals of California and the carmakers.

The terms of the framework also make it clear that California must maintain its authority under the Clean Air Act to establish emissions rules because of its unique air quality, public health and climate challenges. “California’s authority to set tough vehicle emission standards has been good for California and the country,” said Governor Newsom. “This agreement affirms the fact that retaining that authority is a crucial element in our ability to make progress with cleaner cars.”

The Framework

The framework agreed to by the automobile companies and California benefits the country by achieving continuous annual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and criteria pollutants while saving consumers money. Its terms include the following:

  • Extend the current 2025 model year standard until 2026 and smooth out the interim years from 2022 through 2025 to provide additional lead time and slightly less aggressive year-over-year reductions. (That is, changing the original year-over-year 4.7 percent GHG reduction over four years to 3.7 percent over five years.)
  • Support the transition to electric vehicles by rewarding companies that sell more EVs with additional credits to meet the GHG standard for their entire fleet, while ensuring that gas and diesel vehicles also get progressively cleaner over time.  
  • Provide an incentive to car companies to install more GHG-reducing technologies (such as making the car more aerodynamic at highway speeds or improving the vehicle’s internal temperature control) by modestly revising limitations on their usage, and streamlining agency review and approval for new technologies.
  • Simplify compliance by removing the requirement to consider upstream GHG emissions associated with the production of the electricity used by electric vehicles when calculating the GHG emissions for a car maker’s fleet.
  • Participating companies are choosing to pursue a voluntary agreement in which California accepts these terms as compliance with its program, given its authority, rather than challenge California’s GHG and ZEV programs.

Vehicle Pollution and California

Vehicle emissions in California are responsible for nearly 40 percent of GHGs and more than 40 percent of smog-forming emissions. The stakes are high for the health of Californians, and the agreement on principles announced today will still allow the state to improve conditions that threaten public health. Those conditions include:

  • 32 million Californians breathe ozone or particle polluted air at some point each year.
  • 10 million Californians currently live in the only two “severe non-attainment” areas in the U.S. for ozone. They face higher risk of severe heart and breathing problems.
  • A steadily warming climate, which drives drought and more intense wildfires and increases polluted air and the associated health risks.

California has fought hard for its air quality improvements over the past 50 years. In the Los Angeles area, 8-hour ozone levels have fallen 45 percent since 1990. But California still must achieve an 80 percent reduction in smog in the Los Angeles region and about a 50 percent reduction of smog in the San Joaquin Valley to achieve its health based goals, and federal air quality requirements.

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