Trump To Revoke California's Power To Fight Smog

 07/23/2018 11:50 AM MDT
Smog
Credit: Dave Herholz - Flickr

In a move that will infuriate environmentalists everywhere, but especially in California, the Trump administration is seeking to repeal California’s authority to regulate automobile emissions in a proposed revision of Obama-era standards, according to Bloomberg citing three people familiar with the plan.

The proposal which will be released later this week represents a "frontal assault" on one of Barack Obama’s signature regulatory programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

It also sets up a high-stakes battle over California’s unique ability to combat air pollution and, if finalized, is sure to set off a protracted courtroom battle.

And since the revamp also includes California's mandate for electric car sales, it represents a gut punch to the likes of Elon Musk, who recently announced (yet again) a deal to begin work on a factory in China.

The proposed overhaul would also put the brakes on federal rules to boost fuel efficiency into the next decade, instead it will cap federal fuel economy requirements at the 2020 level, which under federal law must be at least a 35-mile-per-gallon fleet average, rather than letting them rise to roughly 50 mpg by 2025 as envisioned in the plan left behind by Obama.

As Bloomberg details, as part of the stunning proposal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose revoking the Clean Air Act waiver granted to California that has allowed the state to regulate carbon emissions from vehicle tailpipes and force carmakers to sell electric vehicles in the state in higher numbers.

Separately, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will assert that California is barred from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from autos under the 1975 law that established the first federal fuel-efficiency requirements, the people said.

Agencies are expected to claim it will reduce traffic fatalities by making it cheaper for drivers to replace older, less-safe cars, while paring sticker prices for new vehicles even if motorists have to spend more for gasoline.

In other words, in what amounts to a full-blown war between the White House and California, the administration will put its weight behind the dramatic overhaul, including the revocation of California’s cherished authority.

The state’s 2009 waiver of federal preemption under the Clean Air Act has allowed the California state to set emissions rules for cars and trucks that are more stringent than the federal government’s, but the state has aligned its rules with those set by the EPA and NHTSA in a so-called national program of clean-car rules.

Needless to say, if Trump’s plan sticks it would represent his biggest regulatory rollback yet.

Predictably, California was furious and rejects the idea that its 48-year ability to write its own tailpipe emission rules should end: “We have the law on our side, as well as the people of the country and the people of the world,” said Dan Sperling, a member of the state’s Air Resources Board said.

On May 2, California and 16 others plus the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration’s effort to unravel the Obama-era emissions targets. Sperling said that number will grow as more and more people come to realize how fundamentally Trump is attacking the idea of states’ rights.

A key, and still unanswered question is what happens to automakers who are caught somewhere in the middle of this fight between the president and most populous US state. According to Bloomberg, in recent months they have stressed they would not support freezing the federal targets and want Washington and Sacramento to continue linking their vehicle efficiency goals. While they spent the first year of the Trump administration attacking Obama’s rules as too costly, they fear the regulatory uncertainty that a years-long court battle over a rollback would create. In addition, other major auto markets such as China and Europe are pressing forward with tougher mandates of their own for cleaner cars.

Trump's action will not make him any friends in the Golden State:

"This is nothing less than an outrageous attack on public health and states’ rights," said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. "It’s a dumb move for an administration that claims it wants peace, because this will lead to an emissions war: progressive states versus a reactionary federal government. The big question: who will the car companies back?"

Meanwhile, others are secretly pleased: some conservatives have long chafed at the rare authority granted California and welcome the effort to revoke.

"Congress didn’t intend for California to set national fuel economy standards," said Steve Milloy, a policy adviser for the Heartland Institute, a group critical of climate science. "It’s nutty it’s been allowed to develop. National fuel economy standards are set by the federal government so that’s what we are going to do."

Meanwhile, as the pollution fight over California cars heats up, one wonders are its cows next? As a reminder, the meat and dairy industry will soon surpass big oil as the world's biggest polluters. The silver lining for them is that by the time this happens, Trump will be long gone.

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