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Automakers Spend Millions to Undercut EPA’s Proposed Protections

As Biden administration considers final EPA rules that would cut tailpipe emissions, save consumers money, and protect public health, automakers are spending millions to weaken them

Ten automakers and industry groups have pumped more than $183 million into lobbying efforts around Washington, D.C., since 2019, according to a new report from Public Citizen. The report comes shortly before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to finalize new safeguards on car tailpipe emissions critical to protecting public health and mitigating climate change.

The top five automakers by U.S. sales – General Motors, Ford, Stellantis, Toyota, and Honda – have claimed EPA’s stronger emission standards would hurt the industry’s bottom line, despite evidence showing the availability of existing technologies to meet the proposed regulations while cutting down costs to do so. Those same five automakers have profited immensely from marketing and selling larger SUVs and trucks, earning nearly $293 billion in combined profits since 2018, paid shareholders nearly $78 billion in dividends, and repurchased nearly $41 billion of their own stock.

“Automakers seem to have no shame,” said Chelsea Hodgkins, senior electric vehicle advocate with Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “For decades, they’ve chosen to drag their feet on improving their cars to the maximum extent possible and instead chose to follow in Big Oil’s footsteps, to spread public misinformation and dissuade policymakers from taking strong action. These rules will save consumers money, protect the health of millions, and give us a shot at a liveable future. Big Auto’s multi-million dollar lobbying efforts and corrupting influence are a direct attack on this progress and our democracy.”

The Biden administration is set to announce the final emissions rules for light-duty vehicles in the coming days or weeks. According to reports, rules will be stronger than those under former President Trump, but will fall short of the strongest alternative that the EPA initially proposed. 

The report, Stuck in Neutral, found that: 

  • The top five automakers continue to actively lobby against the rules while enjoying massive profits on gas-guzzling pickup trucks and ever-larger sport-utility vehicles.
  • Ten major auto companies and trade groups spent more than $183 million on lobbying in Washington D.C., since 2019, an indication of their influence on Capitol Hill. 
  • The largest by far was General Motors, with $48.6 million in lobbying, followed by Toyota at $31 million and Ford at nearly $21 million over that time frame.
  • The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the industry association that represents major automakers, was the fourth-highest spender on vehicle-related lobbying from 2019-2023.
  • In total, 25 different lobbyists were hired by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation to lobby on the standards from 2020 through 2023, including three former staffers of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“We are running out of time, but it’s not too late for the Biden administration to do the right thing,” said Hodgkins. “The Biden administration must stand strong against the auto industry’s efforts to water down these regulations by finalizing the strongest EPA vehicle emissions rules.”

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