Trump blocks California auto emission rules
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was revoking California’s power to enforce more stringent limits on vehicle carbon pollution than the federal government, sparking a battle with the state that has led a revolt against the Environmental Protection Agency’s rollbacks of dozens of environmental regulations.
The long-expected move seeks to neuter California’s resistance to Trump’s proposed rewrite of the Obama-era rules that would have required automakers to accelerate the deployment of more fuel-efficient cars and light trucks, a high priority in the state that has led the nation in efforts to fight climate change.
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“The Trump Administration is revoking California’s Federal Waiver on emissions in order to produce far less expensive cars for the consumer, while at the same time making the cars substantially SAFER,” he wrote in a series of tweets.
The Trump EPA had originally planned to withdraw California’s waiver at the same time it issues its broader proposal to roll back federal auto emissions standards. But the administration accelerated its plans to single out California after the state struck an agreement with Ford and three other car makers to continue to lower their vehicles’ emissions, even if the federal rules are frozen. California’s deal with the automakers recently drew a stern rebuke from EPA and the Transportation Department as well as an anti-trust investigation from the Justice Department.
Trump said there would be little difference between California’s vehicle rules and EPA’s upcoming regulation, although the proposal EPA released last year called for freezing the emissions at current levels, rather than the tigthtening California has favored. And Trump said revoking California’s power would increase vehicle production.
“Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business,” he tweeted.
But Trump’s tweets revived some dubious claims made by EPA that opponents have criticized as unsubstantiated — especially that rolling back the stricter rules will increase safety without seriously increasing the effects of climate change.
Experts have cast doubt on administration models that indicated freezing the standards at current levels would save as many as 13,000 lives from traffic fatalities over a decade. And EPA’s own internal analysis concluded the move would actually lead to 17 more deaths per year compared to the existing Obama-era standards.
Trump also said there will be “very little difference in emissions between the California Standard and the new U.S. Standard,” but EPA’s 2018 proposal also admitted freezing that rule would increase carbon dioxide emissions by 7.4 billion metric tons by 2100 over the Obama rule and boost oil demand by half a million barrels per day. California’s proposed rule is not quite as strict as the Obama standard, and it calls for an xx percent increase in vehicle efficiency per year rather than the xx percent under the existing.
But the agency argued the Obama rule move by itself would shave off just 3/1000th of 1 degree Celsius by the end of the century.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has also vowed to fight any attack on the state’s authority in court, while Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) said she is “exploring all options, including legislation, to block the EPA’s rule.”
But Trump is eager to land a blow against the state that has become a top foe not just on environmental regulation, but also immigration, labor and other contentious issues — even as major business interests worry about the fallout.
Automakers, who at first requested that Trump revisit the strict Obama-era standards, have more recently warned that a regulatory split with California would create market chaos. If California successfully defends its right to the waiver in court, automakers could be forced to reckon with two sets of standards — one for California and more than a dozen other states that choose to follow it, and a weaker one for the states that follow the federal rules expected to be finished in the coming months.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and California officials had sought to strike a compromise earlier this year to maintain a national standard on any new vehicle rules, but those talks collapsed in acrimony, with each side accusing the other of failing to seriously seek a solution.
“We embrace federalism and the role of the states, but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the nation,” Wheeler told a gathering of the National Automobile Dealers Association on Tuesday.
Conservative groups have been eagerly awaiting the waiver withdrawal.
“The Trump administration deserves a lot of credit for correcting this constitutional and legal monstrosity,” Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said on Tuesday. “No state, not even California, has a right to set national fuel economy standards for all the other states.”
But Janet McCabe, an Obama-era EPA air chief, told POLITICO that the withdrawal of California’s waiver would be “unfortunate” and would again set back policies critical for addressing greenhouse gases.
Climate change “is a ‘y’all come’ situation, where we need all the reasonable programs that we can get in place,” she said. “And this is one of the most reasonable and impactful across the board.”
Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said his group would fight the Trump EPA’s move in court.
“The unlawful approach the Trump administration is reportedly planning seeks to block states from choosing clean car standards that protect millions of people from tailpipe pollution,” Krupp said.
Other states have levied challenges to Trump’s deregulatory agenda, especially New York, and environmentalists and public health advocates regularly join those fights. But California holds a special place when it comes to the environment, as well as drawing the president’s ire.
The Clean Air Act gives California unique powers to enforce stronger pollution standards than the federal level. But that power is contingent on EPA’s waiver, which is what the agency plans to revoke on Wednesday.
In addition, the District of Columbia and 13 states have adopted California’s stricter greenhouse gas rules: Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine. Together those states make up 36 percent of U.S. auto sales, and only one — Pennsylvania — supported Trump in 2016.
The Trump administration now argues that California’s ability to set more stringent requirements applies only to pollutants like nitrogen oxides that can be controlled through technologies such as catalytic converters.
Conversely, controlling carbon dioxide emissions is primarily achieved via fuel efficiency increases. But that tramples on the 1975 law that created the DOT’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, program, according to the legal argument made by the Trump administration. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act says states “may not adopt or enforce a law or regulation related to fuel economy standards.”
California’s greenhouse gas standards closely resemble the fuel economy standards, so they are prohibited, the Trump administration argues.
But two federal judges rejected similar arguments on EPCA preemption in 2007. Appeals in those cases were dropped as part of the Obama administration’s negotiations with automakers to set one national standard, and the Trump administration says those opinions are not controlling and rely on out-of-date information.
Wheeler on Tuesday said that the greenhouse gas rollback would not affect other California efforts to limit vehicle emissions unrelated to climate change.
“California will be able to keep in place and enforce programs to address smog and other forms of air pollution caused by motor vehicles,” he said in his prepared remarks to the auto dealers group.