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This woman took on Trump’s effort to roll back auto emissions standards—and won

Mary D. Nichols came up with a clever workaround that brings forward-thinking automakers and states in league against the effort to bring back gas-guzzlers.

This woman took on Trump’s effort to roll back auto emissions standards—and won
[Illustration: André Gottschalk]

Shortly after becoming president, Donald Trump offered the Big Three automakers a deal: He’d roll back Obama-era emissions regulations (requiring automakers to meet an average fuel efficiency of 54 miles per gallon by 2025) if they promised to invest in U.S. manufacturing. When most climate advocates lamented this reversal, Mary D. Nichols, an environmental lawyer and chair of the California Air Resources Board, understood that car companies selling electric and hybrid vehicles would prefer to support a policy that would mitigate climate change. “They were searching for a way they could show [consumers] they weren’t siding with the Trump rollbacks,” she says. First, she tried to collaborate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a new emissions standard. When that failed, she took a novel approach. California had already established emissions rules in 2012, but to give automakers more time to meet goals, she struck a deal with them directly. Honda, Volkswagen, Ford, BMW of North America, Rolls-Royce, and Volvo all agreed to reduce greenhouse gases by 3.7% each year for five years, giving them an extra year to reach the Obama-era goal. Since then, 13 other states have agreed to uphold these standards. Thanks to Nichols’s efforts, 40% of the U.S. car market is now pushing electric vehicles into the future.

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About the author

Ruth Reader is a writer for Fast Company. She covers the intersection of health and technology.

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