RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The White House and the state of California are in the middle of a war over auto emissions. Now 17 automakers are calling for a truce. They want the two sides to reach a compromise on emission standards. The automakers' proposal offers a middle ground between existing Obama-era standards and the Trump administration's announced rollbacks of those standards. NPR's Camila Domonoske has been following this and is in the studio with us this morning. Thanks for coming in.
CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Yeah, happy to be here.
MARTIN: First, just describe the nature of this standoff. How did it come to be?
DOMONOSKE: Right. So during the Obama administration, the White House set these ambitious targets for fuel economy, basically saying that year over year, cars on average should get more miles per gallon as a way to reduce the contribution to climate change. So these targets were set through 2025 with specific goals every year. The Trump administration wants to freeze those targets at 2020 levels. So basically, instead of getting more efficient over time, cars could stay about where they are now.
And California has a unique position in this conversation because California has the right to set its own emission standards. California is positioning itself as a leader in fighting climate change within the U.S., and they are protecting the old Obama-era standards and are willing to go to court to say, no, the Trump administration can't roll these back.
MARTIN: So enter the automakers themselves. And what are they proposing to ameliorate this tension?
DOMONOSKE: Right. So the automakers had actually not loved the Obama-era standards in the first place. They'd asked for them to be softened. So they tell the - they tell California, you might have to look for something that is less strict than the current - the pre-existing standards from the Obama era. But they tell the White House, we are very happy to raise fuel economy standards over time, just at a lower level. They say there's a lot of middle ground here, and there's a commonsense compromise to be made.
MARTIN: I mean, it makes sense that the auto companies would also try to make it worth it for both sides, right? They are catering, in some ways, to both the White House and their aims and the state of California.
DOMONOSKE: Yeah, they sent two letters, one to the White House and one to the governor of California. They're very different letters. The letter to the White House talks a lot about protecting American jobs and reducing the cost of new cars, says that if automakers have to meet two separate standards, it's going to be bad for business. Meanwhile, the letter to California emphasizes that having one unified standard across the country will actually be more effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions than having two standards would be.
MARTIN: It's all about the messaging. So any chance this compromise works?
DOMONOSKE: The reactions from the White House and from California don't really signal that there is going to be any return to the table for negotiations here. The Trump administration says that they're going to move ahead with their rule change, and California says they're committed to fighting that.
MARTIN: But you're reporting the car companies don't want this to end up in the courts. How come?
DOMONOSKE: So it takes a long time to bring a car to market. It takes five years to introduce a new product for these automakers. So they're planning years in advance. If you know what the regulations are going to be in five years, you can make decisions about what kinds of cars you want to bring to market.
If you don't know because it's up in the air and a judge could issue a ruling at any time that will change the regulation of your entire industry, then there's a lot of uncertainty. So even some carmakers who, again, were kind of skeptical about the original rules are really adamant now that they definitely don't want this feud, this back-and-forth, to continue.
MARTIN: They just want clarity. NPR's Camila Domonoske, thank you so much.
DOMONOSKE: Yeah, thank you.
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