Tag Archives: California

Automakers Are More Responsible Than Trump

Trump’s war on science and the environment was recently dealt a setback in the form of an agreement between a group of American, Japanese and European automakers and the State of California.

As The Washington Post reported,

Four automakers from three continents have struck a dealwith California to produce fleets that are more fuel-efficient in coming years, undercutting one of the Trump administration’s most aggressive climate policy rollbacks.

The compromise between the California Air Resources Board and Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW of North America came after weeks of secret negotiations and could shape future U.S. vehicle production, even as White House officials aim to relax gas-mileage standards for the nation’s cars, pickups and SUVs.

California’s head air pollution regulator invited the Trump Administration to join the agreement. I don’t know whether she was being tactful or naive. To no one’s surprise, the Administration instead doubled down on its proposal to roll back mileage regulations.

Interestingly, the automobile companies approached California, not the other way around.

In a joint statement, the four automakers said their decision to hash out a deal with California was driven by a need for predictability, as well as desires to reduce compliance costs, keep vehicles affordable for customers and be good environmental stewards.

“These terms will provide our companies much-needed regulatory certainty by allowing us to meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations while continuing to ensure meaningful greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” the group said.

The deal comes as the Trump administration is working to finalize a huge regulatory rollback that would freeze mileage requirements for cars and light trucks next fall at about 37 miles per gallon on average, rather than raising them over time to about 51 mpg for 2025 models — the level the industry and government agreed to during the Obama administration. The proposal also would revoke California’s long-standing authority to set its own rules under the Clean Air Act, a practice the federal government has backed for decades.

It is hard–no it is impossible–to defend the rollback that the Trump Administration is intent on pursuing. Requiring cars to be more fuel-efficient is self-evidently a desirable goal: it would improve public health, combat climate change and save consumers money at the gas pump, all without compromising safety or inordinately burdening manufacturers.

The companies that are party to the agreement with California represent approximately 30% of the market, but that share could grow significantly if other automakers join, as observers anticipate. The Post reports that just last month, Canada pledged to align its gas-mileage targets with California rather than with the Trump administration.

The idiocy of that administration becomes clearer every day.

The transportation sector has emerged as the single-largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States, and the future gas mileage of the auto fleet will have a profound effect on the nation’s carbon footprint. According to the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, the Trump administration’s plan to freeze mileage standards between 2020 and 2026 would increase greenhouse-gas emissions by between 16 million and 37 million metric tons in that period. That is the equivalent of adding between 3.4 million and 7.8 million cars on the road.

Trump officials have consistently rejected the idea that the federal government should adopt policies aimed at weaning Americans off fossil fuels. NHTSA’s own analysis of its proposed mileage freeze projected that the increased greenhouse-gas emissions from the move would not make a major difference, because the world was on track to warm by seven degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century anyway. (Emphasis supplied)

We’re dying anyway, so let’s allow our donors to make money now.

Words fail.

 

The Politics Of Resentment

It doesn’t take a genius–or even a person of above-average observational skill–to understand what motivates Donald Trump’s policy preferences. If Barack Obama was for it, he’s against it. His seething resentment of his predecessor is as painfully obvious as his disinterest in (and ignorance of) public policy, or his blatant cronyism.

Did Obama want to protect the environment? Well, then screw the environment.

This week, the Trump administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which, if finalized, would cast aside the commitment made by President Bush and President Obama to increase fuel economy and reduce pollution. In doing so, the administration is on a path that could needlessly upend a settled regulatory framework that has brought together disparate interests, delivered predictability to automakers, improved cars, and reduced pollution. As such, the proposed new rules run counter to what Ford, General Motors, and others across the industry have consistently advocated. In fact, industry and the state of California appear largely aligned on how to proceed in resetting fuel-efficiency standards, and the only missing player is the Trump administration, despite the president’s prior direction to his team to negotiate.

Scholars with The Brookings Institution have called for a “dialogue” on the proposed rule making. They emphasize three “key points”: the proposed changes break with the bipartisan history of the program; the proposal will hurt the auto industry; and the administration has relied upon a range of very questionable assumptions that defy common sense (um..what else is new?), in order to justify its proposal.

They also point out that none of the stakeholders involved support the administration’s initiative.

The U.S. auto industry represents 3.5 percent of U.S. GDP and is responsible for 7 million direct and indirect American jobs. Freezing the standards will undermine investments by auto manufacturers and their suppliers, harming the competitiveness of the industry going forward. Research shows that when standards are set at aggressive but attainable levels, they immediately spur technological innovation, catalyze competitiveness, and support jobs. For example, a report published last year by Indiana University looking at the impact of fuel-efficiency standards estimated that investment in innovation could increase jobs by between 200,000 and 375,000 in the year 2025, and add between $138 billion to $240 billion in GDP between 2017 and 2025.

The Brookings scholars also point out that challenging California’s authority under the Clean Air Act would needlessly destabilize the consistency created by a streamlined national program.

Of course, none of this matters to an incompetent and needy President who is not only ignorant of policy (and science, and economics, and….) but who is motivated primarily by resentment of Obama, who once embarrassed him at a Correspondent’s dinner to devastating  effect.

What is undoubtedly even more galling to a man who wears his bigotry like a badge is that Obama has the effrontery to be an immensely popular black man whose personal, intellectual and cultural superiority to Donald Trump is glaringly obvious. The one and only consistent thread in Trump’s “policy agenda” is destruction of the hated black guy’s legacy.

If that destruction requires despoiling the planet, well, so be it.

 

 

Controlling Our Brave New (Digital) World

Now that Net Neutrality rules have been eliminated by Trump’s FCC, the question is: how will the repeal affect ordinary Americans? What consequences will be seen by the millions of Americans who turn increasingly to the Internet for everything from information to entertainment to commerce?

The Brookings Institution has at least a preliminary answer.

On June 11, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the Open Internet Order—the net neutrality rules—went into effect. In the wake of this change, Americans are wondering how the repeal will affect them, and what it means for the future of internet access. Though consumers may not see changes quickly, the shift on net neutrality undermines the nation’s history on network regulation, creating a new era in how these networks operate in America.

So–in this brave “new era,” what can we expect?

The “quick and dirty” answer is: it depends. For one thing, there is a pending court challenge to the FCC’s authority to repeal Net Neutrality. For another, the Senate has passed Senate Joint Resolution 52, officially disapproving the repeal.  (Under the Congressional Review Act,  Congress can undo recently created rules by federal agencies.)

It still has to pass in the House, and then be signed by the president, which makes its prospects dicey, but perhaps Mueller will have completed his investigation…

That said, the need for a vote in the House should make protection of Net Neutrality an issue in the upcoming midterms. Every Congressional candidate should be asked whether they will vote to reinstate the rules. In December of last year, the Hill reported that 83% of Americans support Net Neutrality.

The pending court case is a consolidation of twelve separate challenges to the FCC’s authority to repeal the rules. The 12 lawsuits were filed by more than three dozen entities, including state attorneys general, consumer advocacy groups, and tech companies.

(If there is a Justice Kavanaugh sitting on the Supreme Court, and the case reaches the high court, its prospects dim: Kavanaugh is on record opposing Net Neutrality on the grounds that Internet providers are publishers, and protected from government interference by the First Amendment. Equating companies like Verizon and AT&T with media outlets like the New York Times requires some convoluted logic. )

More encouraging, a number of states aren’t waiting for Congress or the courts. California, not surprisingly, looks to be first out of the gate with a “robust” protection of Net Neutrality, but a number of other states are in the process of crafting similar bills.

The latest version of the bill restores provisions that would prevent broadband providers from exempting some services from customers’ data caps and would ban providers from charging websites “access fees” to reach customers on a network or blocking or throttling content as it enters their networks from other networks, according to a fact sheet released by Wiener, Santiago, and state senator Kevin de León.

The enumerated practices are those that big telecom companies are expected to engage in now that the FCC has repealed national protections.

The new version of the bill needs to be approved by both houses of the California Legislature, then be signed by Governor Jerry Brown. From there, it could face legal challenges from the FCC, which prohibited states from adopting their own net neutrality protections when it repealed the national net neutrality rules. During the press conference, Santiago said the California bill would stand up to legal scrutiny. Legal experts have told WIRED they are unsure whether the FCC has authority to preempt state law on the issue.

As 83% of Americans understand (at least in this context), this administration’s indiscriminate war on all regulatory activity more often than not just favors big business over the rest of us.

Sanctuary

You may have read about Jeff Sessions’ recent lawsuit against California. Sessions is pursuing the Trump Administration’s vendetta against immigrants (ostensibly against undocumented immigrants, but with rhetoric that signals distaste for anyone–legal or not–who is less pale than a Norwegian), and he’s determined to overcome any obstacles to that task.

Vox explains the lawsuit. 

The Department of Justice has just filed a lawsuitagainst the state over three laws it passed in 2017 that limit government officials’ and employers’ ability to help federal immigration agents, and that give California the power to review conditions in facilities where immigrants are being detained by the feds. Sessions, in a Wednesday speech to the California Peace Officers’ Association, a law enforcement union, is giving the message in person.

It’s a huge escalation of the Trump administration’s fight against “sanctuary cities” that limit local-federal cooperation on immigration enforcement. After a year of slow-moving or unsuccessful attempts to block “sanctuary” jurisdictions from getting federal grants, Sessions is moving to stop them from passing laws that limit cooperation to begin with. And he’s starting with a shot across the bow: targeting the bluest state in the union, whose 2017 bills represented a model for progressives to use federalism against the Trump administration’s immigration agenda.

Sessions’ is determined to pursue his punitive federal policy without having to deal with impediments to enforcement enacted by progressive cities and states. According to Vox, we should view this lawsuit as the next phase “in a battle the Trump administration and California are equally enthusiastic about having: an ongoing culture war between progressive politicians who feel a duty to make their immigrant residents feel as safe as possible, and an administration (and its backers) whose stated policy is that no unauthorized immigrant should feel safe.”

Vox is right to label this a culture war. I used to reserve that term for fights over the so-called “social issues”–abortion, same-sex marriage, prayer in schools, religious icons on public land and the like. That was before I realized that environmentalism had also become a culture war issue, and that the division wasn’t simply between religious and secular Americans, but also between adherents of very different religious worldviews.

We Americans are currently very polarized, to put it mildly. The expanded “culture war” of which immigration is a part is an outgrowth of our increasing tribalism, our stubborn  residence within bubbles populated primarily by our “own kind,” both intellectually and geographically.

The big question is whether this is an era of transition–a time of paradigm shift brought on by rapid changes in technology and especially communications–or whether it is something more lasting. The activism of the younger generation that we have seen in the wake of the Parkland shooting is a hopeful sign that it may be the former–that the fear and insecurity that have prompted recent, distressing eruptions of bigotry and racial resentment will pass as my generation dies off.

The challenge will be to keep the Donald Trumps and Jeff Sessions of the world from inflicting irreparable damage in the meantime.

California Dreaming…

Yesterday’s post, and a number of the comments that followed, acknowledged the importance of health insurance to the social safety net, and lamented the resistance of Congressional Republicans to maintenance–let alone extension– of current coverage.

Fortunately, Washington isn’t the only game in town.

With the collapse of anything remotely resembling governance coming from Washington, D.C., California has become the de facto adult in the room. Those of us appalled at Trump’s retreat from environmental protections, for example, take comfort in the fact that California, with its huge and important markets, is insisting upon fuel-efficient cars and other environmentally-sensitive measures.

In healthcare, apparently, California is also proposing to go where Congress won’t.

In the face of the GOP assault on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, California is preparing to vote on a statewide single-payer plan. Californians currently spend about $370 billion annually in a typical, insurance-dominated system that leaves 40 percent of the state’s  population uninsured or underinsured. The single-payer measure is working its way through the legislature, and a fiscal analysis was presented to lawmakers and the public last week by the bill’s sponsor and the California Nurses Association.

The analysis was done by a team led by Robert Pollin, the co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts and a former UC Riverside faculty member. At a Sacramento press conference, he explained how a single-payer system would enable all Californians to be completely covered. That includes 3.7 million currently uninsured residents and another 12 million who are underinsured, meaning they cannot afford their policy’s co-pays and deductibles.

The universal coverage would be paid for by combining all government healthcare subsidies, which accounts for about 70 percent of California’s current spending, and by two proposed tax increases: a 2.3 percent gross receipt taxes on businesses (which kicks in after the first $2 million in earnings and which exempts small businesses); and a 2.3 percent increase in the sales tax, with exemptions for necessities such as food, housing, utilities, and other services.

Those combined revenue streams would raise an estimated $400 billion annually to pay for universal coverage under a single-payer system.

Assuming the law passes, California will actually spend less than it currently does on healthcare, and the average middle-class family will see out-of-pocket costs fall by 9 percent.

Most businesses will also save money, Pollin explained, because they will no longer be paying for their employees’ health care. Even with the proposed gross receipts tax exempting the first $2 million, typical California businesses employing 10 to 19 people would see costs fall by 13.8 percent, he said. Businesses employing 20 to 99 people would see costs fall by 6.8 percent, he said. Businesses employing up to 500 would see costs fall by 5.7 percent, and the 500-plus businesses would see costs fall by 0.6 percent.

The law would establish a system paying hospitals and providers what they are currently paid under the federal Medicare program. That’s about 22 percent less than what private insurers pay. The new system would also negotiate bulk purchases of drugs, and it would achieve the same sort of administrative efficiencies of scale that Medicare has achieved. Medicare’s overhead, as I’ve indicated previously, runs around 3%, while overhead for private insurers (who must market their policies and pay their top management competitive private sector salaries) runs between 22-25%.

As I write this, the measure is not a “done deal.” But a similar bill passed a few years ago, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger. Assuming passage of the pending measure, it is likely that Governor Jerry Brown will sign it.

California has a bit over 12% of the U.S. population. If it passes single-payer, it will be a game-changer. (Already, New York’s legislature has begun discussing a similar approach.)

This could get very interesting. I’m gaining a new appreciation for federalism.