GM pulls out of Trump administration's fuel emissions lawsuit in California

The automaker is shifting its support to President-elect Biden.

General Motors won’t support the Trump administration’s attempts to strip California of the right to set its own fuel emissions standard. In a letter obtained by The New York Times to some of the country’s largest environmental groups, the automaker said it has abandoned the Environmental Protection Agency’s lawsuit against the state and called on the other automakers that had supported the agency, including Toyota and Fiat Chrysler, to do the same.

In a sign of major companies moving to support President-elect Joe Biden, GM CEO Mary Barra said the company agrees with the former vice-president’s climate change policies. “We are confident that the Biden Administration, California and the US auto industry, which supports 10.3 million jobs, can collaboratively find the pathway that will deliver an all-electric future,” she said in the letter. “To better foster the necessary dialogue, we are immediately withdrawing from the pre-emption litigation and inviting other automakers to join us.”

As The New York Times points out, the messaging is a dramatic about-face for GM. When Trump came to power in 2016, Barra was among the first to meet with the president. She used that opportunity to push the administration to weaken fuel economy standards put in place by President Obama. When the EPA put forward a national fuel economy standard, GM’s stance put it at odds with several other automakers, including Ford, BMW, Volkswagen and Honda, all of which had signed a pledge with California to make their engines more efficient than the national standard.

GM’s reversal also looks like a sign of things to come, with Toyota telling The Washington Post it’s reconsidering its position. "Given the changing circumstances, we are assessing the situation, but remain committed to our goal of a consistent, unitary set of fuel economy standards applicable in all 50 states," a spokesperson for the company said.

Whether President-elect Biden will have the opportunity to implement substantive environmental policies will depend on if Democrats can take control of the Senate when the Georgia runoffs are decided in January. Current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has pledged to table legislation to help Americans trade in their gasoline cars for electric vehicles. Those kinds of policies will be harder to pass with a Republican-controlled Senate. Still, with companies GM changing their stance, we’ll likely see more action from the automakers themselves.