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President Donald Trump is lashing out at four major car companies for cutting a deal with California to impose tougher emissions standards on themselves than the White House is calling for. Trump is reportedly enraged by the deal and is pressing other car companies to accept the looser standards the administration is offering instead.

In a development that sounds like satire, Trump tweet-fumed last week at the four “politically correct Automobile Companies” for having the gall to take a pass on his offer to pollute more. You know an administration’s environmental policies have gone into the ditch when the polluters are showing leadership in cleaning things up and the president is angry about it.

Trump’s environmental strategy from the start has been to unwind the progress of President Barack Obama, whose administration aggressively addressed greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. Where Obama called for cars to reach an average efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, Trump is rolling that back to 37 miles per gallon.

With emissions standards, there’s always a wild card: California historically has imposed tough standards of its own because, with so many cars on its roads, the alternative is an enveloping smog. Since California comprises such a huge chunk of the national automobile market — and since car makers operate on a national scale and don’t want the headache of meeting different standards in different parts of the country — California’s state-level standards can effectively set the bar nationally.

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California’s standards weren’t an issue when Obama was seeking tough national standards. But with Trump now rolling those national standards back, a fight between Washington and California loomed, with a landscape of fractured, shifting rules clearly visible down the road.

Four automakers — Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW — wisely decided they would preemptively work out an agreement with California for the sake of efficiency and building their cars to meet a single high standard. So they inked a deal last month with Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom to adopt national standards slightly below what Obama sought but well above what Trump is offering. Other car companies are considering joining in.

It is, in a way, free enterprise at its best: an industry self-regulating to a responsible outcome, based on sound business principles. Why would any rational president find that infuriating?

Trump does. This is the ultimate proof that his zeal to scuttle Obama’s environmental legacy isn’t just another Republican gift to industry — not when industry itself is saying thanks but no thanks. It is, rather, an ego-driven tantrum, which is no way to drive environmental policy. Luckily, it’s looking like Sacramento and Detroit are simply going to take the wheel out of this president’s hands.

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Reprinted from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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