The United States Department of Justice has ended its investigation into Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW over a presumed antitrust violation  stemming from a deal they made with California  to adhere to regional emission rules. Their agreement technically circumvents the current administration’s plan to freeze national emissions and fuel economy standards — established while President Obama was still in office — at 2021 levels through 2026. Under the California deal, the automakers promised to comply with pollution and gas mileage requirements that are more stringent than the federal standards suggested in the rollback proposal.

But the probe also looked like retaliation from the Trump administration against automakers publicly siding with the state causing the most trouble in the gas war. Under the deal, the automakers promised to comply with pollution and economy requirements that are tougher than proposed federal standards.

While the Justice Department hasn’t explicitly said why it closed the investigation, it’s presumed that it simply didn’t find anything that it felt violated antitrust laws. California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday that he wasn’t surprised by the decision, stating that the “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.”

California offered tons of pushback against the EPA's rollback, going to great lengths to ensure its continued self-regulation while getting as many other states to adhere to its targets as possible. In September,  the state’s authority to set auto mileage standards was revoked . The issue will likely be tied up in federal courts for years, as the Golden State isn’t going to go down without a struggle — and has been extremely litigious throughout.

Since the rollback proposal still has not been finalized, it’s not clear how drastic it will ultimately be. The Environmental Protection Agency previously suggested halting existing efficiency mandates in 2021 (with previous drafts issuing the freeze a year earlier), with nothing set in stone. The president said in December to expect the final draft within the next 12 months, noting that he anticipated continued legal problems.

first published by TTAC