23 States Sue Trump Administration to Keep California’s Auto Emission Rules

September 20, 2019 by Dan McCue
Los Angeles traffic on the 105 freeway near the 405 interchange in Southern Calif. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

WASHINGTON — California and 22 other states sued the Trump administration Friday to stop it from revoking the authority of The Golden State to set emission standards for cars and trucks.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the lawsuit against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a day after it issued a regulation designed to pre-empt the state’s authority to set its own rules for how much pollution can come from cars and trucks.

Becerra, a Democrat, said in a statement that two other courts have already upheld California’s emission standards. “Yet, the Administration insists on attacking the authority of California and other states to tackle air pollution and protect public health,” he said.

“The Oval Office is really not a place for on-the-job training. President Trump should have at least read the instruction manual he inherited when he assumed the Presidency, in particular the chapter on respecting the Rule of Law,” Becerra continued, adding a pithy, “Mr. President, we’ll see you in court.”

Federal law sets standards for how much pollution can come from cars and trucks. But since the 1970s, the federal government has given California, the nation’s most populous state, permission to set its own rules because it has the most cars on the road of any state and struggles to meet air quality standards.

Traditionally the arrangement works this way: Under the federal Clean Air Act, California may apply for a waiver from EPA to set its own vehicle emissions standards that are at least as protective as the federal government’s standards, and the EPA must approve the waiver, unless it makes certain findings.

Over the past 50 years, the EPA has granted 100 waivers to California.

In January 2012, California adopted its comprehensive Advanced Clean Cars Program for cars and light duty trucks in model years 2017 through 2025. 

The program combines the control of smog-causing pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions into a single coordinated package. The program improves air quality and curbs greenhouse gases while saving drivers money at the pump.

Thirteen other states, plus the District of Columbia, have adopted California’s emission rules for cars and trucks.

On its own, the California program would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the state by approximately 14.4 million metric tons a year by 2025 and 25.2 million metric tons a year by 2030.

When accounting for emissions savings from other states that have adopted California’s standards, these emission reductions nearly triple, Becerra said in a press release.

The Trump administration has been working on setting new auto emission rules. But in July, Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen announced they would voluntarily follow California’s rules, bypassing the Trump administration.

The Department of Justice then launched an antitrust investigation.

On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a news conference in Washington that the administration would “not let political agendas in a single state be forced upon the other 49.”

Joining California in the lawsuit are attorneys general from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

The cities of New York and Los Angeles also joined the lawsuit.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom also weighed in on the lawsuit, saying “California won’t bend to the President’s reckless and politically motivated attacks on our clean car waiver.”

“We’ll hold the line in court to defend our children’s health, save consumers money at the pump and protect our environment,” he said.

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