In Bullheaded Move, Trump Blocks California From Setting Vehicle Emissions Rules

State leaders, environmental groups prepare to challenge decision in court.

So Trump delivered today on the chatter making the rounds over the past few days and tweeted that the his administration was revoking California’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards for new cars and light, because, apparently it means “cars will be far safer and much less expensive” and that, in turn, will mean “more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!”

california traffic
By the time the Clean Air Act was made into law, California had already enacted its own tailpipe emissions regulation in order to tackle high levels of vehicular pollution in Los Angeles. It has since been in the forefront of states pushing for cleaner vehicles. Photo by DBduo Photography

This latest move in the ongoing battle between the feds and the Golden State, which has been openly opposed to the Trump administration, has been more than a year in the offing. The Environmental Protection Agency had signaled in April 2018 that it may revoke California’s special authority under the Clean Air Act of 1970.

The special provision came about because by the time the Clean Air Act was made into law, California had already enacted its own tailpipe emissions regulation in order to tackle high levels of vehicular pollution in Los Angeles in the 1960s. It was decided by Congress at that time that the state could set its own emissions standards as long was they were at par with, or stronger than, federal regulations. Other states could follow either California’s standards or those set by the EPA.

Revoking this provision, will therefore affect not only California, but also 13 other states and the District of Columbia that have been following California’s emissions regulations standards, and 11 states that have adopted its zero-emission vehicle standards (which require automakers to sell more zero-emission vehicles and plug-in hybrids). The Sierra Club notes that the clean car standards set by the state, which are more stringent than federal standards, “protects the environment and the public health of more than 118 million people, upwards of 40 percent of the US population.”

The move comes just weeks after the Department of Justice launched an antitrust investigation into a July deal between California and four automakers — Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW — where the companies agreed to voluntarily abide by California’s rules and increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

“This move doesn’t just defy the plain language of the law; it slams the brakes on technological advancement and throws a wrench into states’ ability to deal with air pollution and confront the growing risk of climate change. It’s yet another way the administration is defying science, the law and democratic norms to enable increased pollution,” Ken Kimmell, president of Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an emailed statement post Trump’s tweet.

The decision is, of course, going to be challenged in court and LA Times reported yesterday that California Democrats are already planning to block the administration’s move. “Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento), a member of the House committee that oversees the EPA, said she planned to seek legislation to keep the state’s authority intact,” the daily reported. “Although Trump likely would veto a free-standing bill to accomplish that, Democrats might be able to attach a provision to a budget measure or some other must-pass measure.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra too, has vowed to take the Trump administration to court, as have several environmental groups including UCS and Sierra Club.

“It is unclear whether the Trump administration has the authority to revoke the California waiver,” says Thaddeus Lightfoot, as a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney who has spent almost three decades specializing in environmental law. The NYU School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity published a study last year concluding the plain text of the Clean Air Act does not allow EPA to revoke a waiver, he notes, adding that the George W. Bush administration denied California’s waiver in 2008 and California challenged that decision, but the case was never decided. When Barack Obama became president, the litigation was put in abeyance.

Whether legally defensible or not, the decision to do away with a special provision that addresses both air pollution and climate change at a time when we need even more stringent regulation of fossil fuel-powered machines, is foolhardy to say the least. But, what else can one expect from a leader who continues to look away while the world burns.

Couldn’t have put it better than California Governor Gavin Newsom’s tweet:

“Hi, @realDonaldTrump. Let me break it down in simple terms for you…

Reducing emissions:
-Protects our air & health
-Is good for the economy
-Allows families to pay less at the pump

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