California Opens New Front in Car Emissions Waiver Fight in DC Circuit

(CN) – Diversifying their battle with the federal government over vehicle emissions, California and 22 states asked the D.C. Circuit Friday to review the Trump administration’s revocation of a waiver that allows the Golden State to set strict greenhouse gas and zero emissions requirements for auto manufacturers.

Morning rush hour traffic makes its way along U.S. 101 near downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom accused the Trump administration of “weaponizing federal agencies” by trying to strip the state of a longstanding waiver that forces auto manufacturers to comply with stringent fuel-efficient standards in order to do business in a state plagued by smog.

“California won’t back down – we, along with major automakers who voluntarily signed onto our framework, know that the future is clean cars. There’s no time to waste and we’ll continue to fight to defend our state’s rights to set our own standards,” Newsom said in a statement.

Filed in D.C. Circuit, the petition is the latest attempt by California to protect a Clean Air Act waiver that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has routinely renewed over the past 50 years. California – plus 22 other states, the District of Columbia and the cities of Los Angeles and New York, sued the U.S. Department of Transportation this past September for revoking the Golden State’s waiver.

The Trump administration has moved to dismiss that lawsuit, arguing the lower court lacks jurisdiction and the D.C. Circuit is the proper venue – the argument that prompted Friday’s action.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Friday’s petition is meant to diversify the coalition’s legal fight and again accused the Trump administration of endangering public health.

“The conscience of today’s leaders in Washington DC appears to be AWOL,” said Becerra at a press conference Friday. “The Trump administration is trying to undo the progress we’ve made as a state and as a nation over the past decades.”

California officials credit the waiver with not only improving air quality in its own cities over the decade, but in other states as well. More than a dozen states have adopted California’s clean car and fuel-efficiency standards.

The fight over clean cars began in 2018, when President Donald Trump made good on a campaign promise to cut regulatory red tape and announced the EPA was scrapping Obama-era vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards intended to nearly double passenger vehicle’s fuel economy and halve their carbon emissions by 2025.

Trump said the standards set by California were rigid and unrealistic, making it difficult for auto manufacturers to keep up with technological enhancements. He said halting fuel efficiency standards would allow automakers to sell cheaper cars.

The battle royale has forced automakers to pick sides: Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen reached a deal with California in July, while GM, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler have aligned with Trump. In response to California’s deal, the U.S. Justice Department started an antitrust investigation into Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen.

California was the first state to implement fuel efficiency standards and the EPA has renewed its waiver over 100 different times. Officials view the unique ability as the linchpin of the state’s air quality laws and claim the Trump administration’s pending new fuel efficiency standards could damage public health.

Other states joining California’s lawsuit include 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.

Los Angeles and New York City also joined the suit.

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