California's Clean Air Battle Will Be 'A Long And Messy Court Fight'

Katie Ramirez
July 26, 2018

The industy opposes the timing of the Obama Administration fuel emission standards, but also fears a long legal battle that makes it hard to plot strategy.

The Trump administration appears ready to make good on its threat to revoke the State of California's ability to set its own emissions and fuel economy rules as part of its efforts to ease the restrictions on vehicles in the U.S.

California and 16 other states, plus the District of Columbia sued May 2 to block the Trump administration from pumping the brakes on emissions standards. 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, according to the people. Those standards were scheduled to jump to 50mpg by 2025.

In addition, the Trump administration plans to propose a rule that would revoke a waiver California was granted by the EPA under the Clean Air Act, which allowed California to set its own emissions rules and requirements for zero emission vehicles. State regulators also worked closely with the Obama Administration to craft federal fuel economy standards that span well into the future. Reuters reported previously that the Transportation Department plans to assert in the proposal that California is also barred from setting emissions rules under a 1975 EPA law.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to revoke California's ability to control its own environmental regulations. Jerry Brown did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Although the state initially used that power to regulate smog-causing pollutants, it has become a key weapon in the state's fight against climate change.

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In 2009, California received a waiver from the EPA, allowing it to set its own limits on greenhouse gases from vehicles, effectively mandating that vehicles sold in California burn less fossil fuel. The revision would also impact California's mandate on electric vehicle sales in the state.

An annual report issued this month by the California Air Resources Board found that California already has met its 2020 goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels.

"What we don't want to see is two different standards for the country", Wheeler said, calling for a "50-state solution" to disputes over mileage standards.

"The big question: Who will the auto companies back?" After the Obama administration bailed out much of the US auto industry immediately after the 2008 recession, it pressured automakers to agree to a 2011 plan to increase fuel efficiency by 2025, to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon.

Public hearings on the proposals have drawn mainly opponents, including scientists and health officials who say the change would throw out bedrock public-health studies that draw on confidential data on individual patients. Whether California can argue that economy standards and emissions are tied will determine the overall outcome of the case.

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