WASHINGTON (CN) - Setting the stage for battle, President Donald Trump’s latest promise to roll back vehicle emission standards came just a day after 11 states challenged automakers in court.
Trump had been meeting with leaders of the auto industry leaders in Detroit on Wednesday when he slammed Obama-era fuel mandates that require vehicles to achieve an environmentally friendly 54.5 miles to the gallon.
"We're going to cancel that executive action,” Trump said. “We are going to restore the originally scheduled midterm review. We're going to be fair.”
But lawmakers in California pumped the brakes that afternoon, saying that a "cynical ploy by the Trump administration and auto manufacturers to roll back vehicle pollution standards" won't go forward quietly.
Just a day before Trump’s appearance, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Gov. Jerry Brown filed a motion with the D.C. Circuit to intervene against a challenge there by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The alliance wants the federal appeals court to overturn a January decision by the Environmental Protection Agency that set vehicle fuel pollution standards for 2022 to 2025. The standards were originally adopted in 2012 as part of an agreement between manufacturers, the United States and the California Air Resources Board.
Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Automakers Alliance, said they believe the final determination was “rushed out.”
Though the alliance petitioned for review, Newton said they are “fully expecting” that the Trump administration will get the midterm review of fuel standards “back on track.”
Newton described that process as already in the works. “So I am anticipating that the petition can now be withdrawn,” Newton said in an email Thursday, “since the process is now once again being restored to the process that we all agreed to when creating the One National Program, and the EPA and Department of Transportation can work together on future fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.”
With California throwing a wrench in the mix, however, the Democrat attorneys general from New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont issued a statement in support of Gov. Brown’s motion.
Joined as well by members of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the AGs called the challenge by auto manufacturers a "dramatic wrong turn in our nation's efforts to fight air pollution from passenger cars and trucks.”
Gov. Brown also fired off a letter on Wednesday to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.
"President Trump's decision today to weaken emission standards in cars in an unconscionable gift to polluters,” Brown wrote. “Once again, you've put the interests of big oil ahead of clear air and politics ahead of science.”
Brown's letter to Pruitt includes a 121-page report of how fuel standards have been successful in his state.
The governor also sent letters to Mitch Bainwol and John Bozella, presidents of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers respectively.
"Your action to weaken vehicle pollution standards, standards your own members agreed to, breaks your promise to the American people," Brown wrote to Bainwol and Bozella. "Putting this progress at risk is reckless. Your actions could cost the average car owner more than $1,650 per vehicle and make Americans consume billions more gallons of gasoline."
This, in effect, Brown added, would increase dependence on foreign oil and raise greenhouse gas emissions by 540 million tons.
"Please be advised that California will take the necessary steps to preserve the current standards and protect the health of our people and the stability of our climate," Brown warned.
If the intervention is successful, California would be able to prevent attempts to undo the standards.
"California is forward leaning - you don't become the world's fifth largest economy by sitting back," California AG Becerra said in Wednesday’s statement. "For us, clean air, good-paying jobs and quality of life go hand-in-hand. For us, there's no turning back in the fight against pollution."
Though the EPA has not returned a request for comment, Pruitt slammed the standards in a statement Wednesday as "costly for automakers and the American people."
"We will work with our partners at the Department of Transportation to take a fresh look to determine if this approach is realistic,” he said. “This thorough review will help ensure that this national program is good for consumers and good for the environment.”
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