The Trump administration apparently is backing away from threats against four automakers by closing out an antitrust investigation brought after they signed an agreement with the state of California.
The Justice Department did not issue a statement, but both The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported the development, which was basically confirmed by the Ford Motor Co., one of the targets in the probe, and California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Other carmakers, which had reached an agreement on emissions with California, were BMW, Honda and Volkswagen. The Trump administration, which assailed the move as a “P.R. stunt.” The Times said DOJ closed its antitrust investigation of the four auto makers that had reached a tailpipe-emissions deal with the state of California, finding no evidence of collusion among the companies.
The State of California has been locked in a bitter dispute with the Trump administration about reducing climate-warming vehicle pollution. California, along with a dozen other states, is pushing for tighter emission controls, while the Trump administration is recommending loosening standards imposed by the Obama administration.
The court case about the emission regulation remains undecided and eventually is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
The antitrust investigation, launched last September, had escalated a dispute over one of President Trump’s most significant rollbacks of global warming regulations.
A spokeswoman from Ford confirmed the company had been notified by the Justice Department that the investigation was closed. Representatives from BMW, Volkswagen and Honda did not respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department did not release a statement.
“These trumped-up charges were always a sham — a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to prevent more automakers from joining California and agreeing to stronger emissions standards,” he said in a statement. He called the decision “a victory for anyone who cares about the rule of law and clean air,” Newsom said in a statement.
The auto industry has been caught between California, which has a long history under federal and federal court decision, of regulating air quality on its own, and the Trump administration, which has roll back federal regulations.
The 13 states plus the District of Columbia that follow California’s standard, representing 40% of vehicle sales.
The end of the antitrust case also could increase pressure on other automakers such as General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. that have sided with the Trump administration.
The states of California’s already said it will no longer purchase vehicles from the automakers that have sided with the Trump administration. In addition, Toyota has been targeted by environmental activists that have complained the automaker’s support for less regulation undermines its effort to project an environmentally friendly image.