In one example, the ad led to a website with a picture of a smiling President Obama, along with the question "Would YOU buy a used car from this man?" Viewers were urged to write local government representatives, demanding a rollback of emissions standards.
The Times' report uncovered the main player behind this corporate shell game is Marathon Petroleum, presently the country's largest oil refiner. Working in conjunction with conservative interests such as the billionaire Koch brothers, Marathon used its influence throughout a Trump administration that was eager to play along.
A spokesperson for Koch Industries told the Times the firm has "a long, consistent track record of opposing all forms of corporate welfare, including all subsidies, mandates and other handouts that rig the system."
The rationale behind this effort to weaken emissions standards is that oil is now more prevalent, and the U.S. is not nearly as foreign-energy-dependent as it once was — particularly during the 1970s, when two oil shocks in 1973 and 1979 throttled the nation's economy.
Of course, having a prevalence of oil doesn't rationalize using every last drop of the stuff (unless you believe massive oil consumption is a good thing for the planet and climate change is a hoax). If that's the case, or you happen to be a Marathon lobbyist paid to say it's so, then the oil glut argument might make sense.
This aggressive approach even caused automakers, many of whom were initially in favor of lessening the Obama administration's stricter regulations, to take a step backward from the fight. That's because 13 states presently follow the stronger emissions rules established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Automakers presently work to meet CARB standards across all 50 states. Yet, they now face a real possibility of having to meet two very different sets of emissions standards in the U.S. market.
That's because CARB and the Trump administration are in a pitched battle over whether any individual state has a right to set emissions standards in the first place. Please take a moment to note the historical irony, that many of the conservative Republicans against this automotive-themed state right are the same ones who've championed states' rights on other issues. Apparently, car exhaust crosses a greater political and moral divide.
Marathon's message has certainly worked among some government officials, including Scott Pruitt, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. As the Times' report notes, car emissions regulations happen to be drafted between the EPA and Department of Transportation.
To that end, the report found that as recently as this summer, a group of approximately 1,500 state legislators and industry heavyweights — along with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — met in New Orleans to cheer the Trump administration's proposed emissions cuts. The event's sponsor: Marathon Petroleum.