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DOJ Drops Antitrust Probe of Auto Makers In CA Emissions Deal

 |  February 7, 2020

The Justice Department has closed its antitrust investigation of four auto makers that had reached a tailpipe emissions deal last summer with the state of California, according to The Wall Street Journal.

After examining the matter for several months, the department concluded that the auto makers,  Ford Motor, Honda Motor, BMW and Volkswagen, didn’t engage in conduct that violated US antitrust law, the people said.

At issue was a July agreement between the auto makers and the California Air Resources Board on fuel efficiency standards, a state-based framework that is at odds with the Trump administration’s regulatory approach.

Justice Department officials questioned whether the companies agreed among themselves on the outlines of the deal with California regulators, and the auto makers received formal civil subpoenas in the fall.

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, has said the state worked individually with the auto makers and that all parties were mindful of not violating antitrust laws.

The Justice Department had started investigating the companies amid larger conflicts between the Trump administration and California, often on environmental grounds. In September, the administration moved to take away California’s ability to set its own vehicle emissions standards, and then informed state leaders that their air-pollution plans might be incomplete or unworkable, putting billions of dollars in federal aid for the state at risk.

The friction over the future of the auto industry has been the biggest conflict. Since its earliest days, the Trump administration has been attempting to roll back rules California had set in collaboration with the Obama administration to reduce tailpipe emissions. Leaders in the Republican administration want to curb Democratic-dominated California’s influence over rules governing the industry.