The decades-long battle over vehicle emissions standards is heating up again.

As I’m writing this post, two of the most important and powerful players in the EV world are meeting across the hall in a small conference room at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. Behind closed doors, Andrew Wheeler, the U.S. EPA administrator for the Trump Administration, and Mary Nichols Chair of the California Air Resources Board are discussing the decades-long battle over vehicle emissions standards.

Wheeler and Nichols are presenters at the BloombergNEF San Francisco Summit on mobility. Wheeler, who took the stage earlier, restated the Trump Administration’s position against California’s right to establish zero-emissions mandates. “California is only looking at energy efficiency. We are also looking at highway safety and getting older cars off the road,” said Wheeler. “We would like to see a 50-state deal,” he said – presumably the topic he is discussing with Mary Nichols at this moment.

Wheeler was interviewed on stage with Stephen Munro, a policy analyst with BloombergNEF. When Munro asked Wheeler about the future of the $7,500 federal tax credit for consumers buying electric vehicles, he replied, “I don’t think the agency should be picking fuel types,” said Wheeler.

“We are looking at the market data about what consumers want,” said Wheeler. “We are not trying to social engineer the choice of fuel.”

Wheeler argued that the cost for automakers to meet existing fuel economy standards, such as electric cars, is measured in the billions. And that those costs are passed on to consumers. Wheeler believes that the Trump administration’s proposals to revoke Obama-era fuel economy standards and California’s ZEV mandates would have a negligible effect on carbon reductions.

“Our proposal would almost get the same reductions,” said Wheeler. “The current co2 reductions would go beyond just those 13 states to all 50 states.” Wheeler said that auto industry officials met in his office to inform him that the Trump Administration’s numbers are more stringent.

“It’s not the EPA’s role to promote a particular type of fuel, such as electricity,” he said. Wheeler was challenged about China taking the lead in the emerging EV technology. “We should not be dictating what automobile companies should be producing or what kind of vehicles Americans should buy,” he said. “It’s not grounds for concerns for the EPA.”

We are unlikely to get a complete picture of what Wheeler and Nichols discussed today. Before stepping into the meeting, Wheeler said, “We both want to see improvements in air quality and co2. “But this is not a two-way negotiation,” he said, referring to the federal government’s ability to revoke California’s waiver that allows the state to establish its own air standards.

Wheeler repeated that the Trump administration’s is concerned about the price of cars and highway safety -- not only energy efficiency.

“When I took this job, the president asked me to deregulate to create more jobs,” said Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist.

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