SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Saying California’s conflict with the Trump administration “has sharpened,” Governor Jerry Brown announced a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday accusing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt of illegally rolling back vehicle emissions standards.
“This character in Washington, with his expensive travel plans and his funny little decorating ideas, is running roughshod over the needs of the American people,” Brown said Tuesday, referring to the spate of recent spending scandals ensnaring Pruitt.
Excoriating Pruitt and the entire Trump administration’s approach to emissions and climate change, the governor said Trump’s exercise in economic nostalgia with a focus on fossil fuels will mean that America is eclipsed by more forward-thinking countries that readily adjust to a future without the combustion engine.
“This move by Pruitt will not make America great, but it will make it second-rate and will likely jeopardize the automotive industry in the United States,” Brown said.
Brown said stricter emissions standards will also help improve the health of American families and make transportation more affordable, particularly with rising gas prices.
The technical aspects of the lawsuit, filed in the D.C. Circuit by California, 17 other states and the District of Columbia, focus on Pruitt’s decision in April to reverse course on implementing stricter emissions standards for vehicles manufactured in the United States.
In the lawsuit, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra accuses Pruitt and the EPA of acting arbitrarily by withdrawing the standards – reversing a decade-long process without providing evidence and thereby violating the American Procedures Act while failing to follow the EPA’s own guidelines and flouting the Clean Air Act.
“The process through which they arrived at the decision to withdraw the determination is completely unknown and flawed,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board. “They just withdrew the determination with no basis in the record and are set to use that as a springboard to implement weaker standards.”
Brown likened the tearing up of the determination, made after two years of a science-based rulemaking process, to the actions of a “tin-horn dictator.”
Becerra said Tuesday’s legal action is the 32nd lawsuit his office has filed against the Trump administration. Of them, 16 or 17 have been related to environmental considerations.
“We are not trying to pick a fight with the Trump administration,” Beccera said. “But we are ready for one.”
Becerra also touted his legal record so far in fighting Trump, saying California is 11-0 in court decisions.
“We have not lost one case,” he said. “Sooner or later the American people will have to consider that when they decide between believing the Trump administration or the state of California.”
Nichols described a long circuitous path leading to Tuesday’s conflict with the Trump administration.
California regulators, grappling with some of the worst smog problems in the nation, first explored stricter emissions standards in 2004.
At that point the George W. Bush administration – knowing California’s market was so powerful that automakers would likely tailor their emissions standards to fit its regulations – attempted to prevent California from carving out its own standards.
The bid failed, and California moved forward with some of the toughest emissions standards in the nation.
President Barack Obama’s administration expressed a desire to take California’s standards as the template and implement them nationwide, both as a means of attacking climate change-causing emissions and providing automakers with a degree of predictability. Pruitt’s action last month undid the Obama administration’s strides.
All three California officials speaking at Tuesday’s press conference said Pruitt’s reversal was done secretively and without evidence, flouting the necessary procedures for a government based on the rule of law rather than personal whims.
The disparity between the current emissions standards and the ones California seeks to implement is roughly 134 coal-burning power plants per year, according to Becerra. The stricter emissions would also save drivers an estimated $1,600 dollars per vehicle per year.
Brown, who leaves office at the end of 2018, has staked a great deal of his personal political legacy on the battle over climate change.
He is slated to host the Global Climate Action Summit this September and said the lawsuit filed Tuesday is one of the most important the state has filed against the federal government.
“This is existential,” he said. “Climate change is an existential threat to California, America and the world.”