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FILE - This April 23, 2019 file photo shows gas prices are displayed at a Shell station in Sacramento, Calif. Four major automakers have reached a secret deal with California to increase gas mileage and greenhouse gas emissions standards, bypassing the Trump administration’s plan to freeze standards at 2021 levels, according to two people briefed on the matter. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The Associated Press

DETROIT - Four major automakers have reached a deal with California to toughen standards for gas mileage and greenhouse gas emissions, bypassing the Trump administration's push to relax mileage standards nationwide instead.

Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen signed the deal with the California Air Resources Board, the state's air pollution regulator, which had been at odds with the Trump administration for months, in a contest that automakers fear could set up years of confusion and litigation in the industry. California has said it would exercise its powers to set more stringent pollution and mileage standards than the federal government has proposed.

The Trump administration reacted strongly to the end run, with Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Michael Abboud calling it a "PR stunt."

"The federal government, not a single state, should set this standard," White House spokesman Judd Deere said. The Trump administration would keep going on its competing effort to relax mileage standards nationwide, Deere said.

The administration has sought to freeze Obama administration standards, keeping fleetwide new-vehicle mileage at 2021 levels of about 30 mpg. The administration says the extra expense to comply with the requirements will raise the price of new cars, making them unaffordable and depriving buyers of new safety technology. Many experts, including former EPA engineers, challenge the administration's argument.

The four automakers see the California agreement as "insurance" to provide some certainty to the industry and the state no matter who wins the 2020 presidential elections, according to a person familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified because details of the negotiations haven't been made public.

The four automakers represent only about 30% of U.S. new-vehicle sales.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents a dozen automakers in and out of the California deal, said in a statement that the industry still wants nationwide standards with year-over-year mileage increases that fit with what people are now buying, SUVs and trucks.

"Today's announcement of the framework of an agreement by California and certain automakers acknowledges that the MY2022-2025 standards developed by the Obama administration are not attainable and need to be adjusted," said the statement from the alliance.

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