Why GM is backing Trump in his fight against California

General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and a group of other foreign automakers are seeking to become a party to a legal battle between the Trump Administration and the state of California over whether California can set auto emission rules for itself and 13 other states that have chosen to follow its lead.

The automakers say they are seeking to intervene because they want the two sides to come together and find a single national standard that would govern the fuel economy rules automakers would need to meet. They say they support rules tougher than those in place today, although they oppose significantly tougher standards put in place during the Obama administration. Those standards would have raised the average fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2024.

The automakers seeking to enter the legal battle have formed a new lobbying group, the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation. In the filing, they say neither side in the dispute can adequately represent their interests in the case.

“The decision to intervene in the lawsuit is about how the standard should be applied, not what the standard should be,” said John Bozzella, a spokesman for the coalition and the head of a separate group of foreign-owned automakers with US factories. “The certainty of one national program, with reasonable, achievable standards, is the surest way to reduce emissions in the timeliest manner.”

But by entering into the suit the way they are, these automakers are siding with the Trump administration in its argument that it should be able to strip the states of their power to set tougher clean air standards.

Because of that, California and environmental groups attacked the automakers’ action.

“We are disappointed in the…[intervening automakers] for hiding behind the Trump administration’s skirts and its assault on public health,” said Mary Nichols, the chairman of the California Air Resources Board, the state’s environmental regulator. “California will continue to carry out our mandate to meet national air quality standards and keep working with those automakers committed to a framework that delivers cleaner vehicles that benefit consumers and the environment.”

The legal action is at odds with the actions of four other automakers — Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW — which earlier this year reached an agreement with California to meet the state’s tougher standards.

The Trump administration has yet to say exactly what fuel economy and emissions rules it believes the industry should be required to meet, but it is poised to roll back the rules put in place during the Obama administration. In announcing that action it argued that anything that requires cars to be more efficient will hurt American consumers by raising the cost of new vehicles.

But the automakers are all spending billions of dollars to develop new vehicles such as plug-in electrics in the belief that is the direction that the market is going. And tougher environmental rules elsewhere in the world are pushing them to move towards all cars being powered completely or greatly by electricity instead of just gasoline or diesel fuel. So regulations that don’t require any improvement in fuel economy aren’t in the auto industry’s interest either.

The automakers who filed to join the suit this week also don’t want a legal battle that continues for years and leaves them with regulatory uncertainty. That’s one of the reasons why they are arguing that the EPA and CARB should reach a deal on a common standard.

“We did not ask for, nor did we want, these questions to be decided in the courts, but we hope this pathway leads to a solution amenable to all parties,” said Bozzella.

Thirteen states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state — plus Washington, DC, follow the rules set out by California. Between them they have about a third of the nation’s population.

CNN Business’ Peter Valdes-Dapena contributed to this report.