California Warns EPA Against Loosening Emissions Standards

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is flanked by Gov. Jerry Brown and California Air Resources Board Mary Nichols. The trio vowed to fight the Trump administration’s threats to strip California of its unique authority to set vehicle emissions standards for cars and trucks sold in the Golden State. (Nick Cahill/CNS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Since the 1960s, California has set its own vehicle emissions standards in a mission to clear its notoriously smoggy air, and for the most part the federal government hasn’t intervened. Over the decades, the stringent standards have forced automakers to more than double fuel efficiency in order to sell cars in the nation’s most populous state, and a dozen other states have voluntarily adopted California’s regulations.

But the Golden State could suffer collateral damage in the Trump administration’s quest to deregulate, and lose the ability to set its own emissions rules. The White House says current federal emissions standards – a product of negotiations between California, automakers and the Obama administration in 2013 – are due for maintenance.

Accusing the federal government of playing “high-stakes poker” with Americans’ health, California on Friday demanded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency withdraw its “50-state” uniform emissions proposal for vehicles.

“This Trump administration attack on innovative vehicle technology jeopardizes the health of millions, and will cost billions at the pump,” California Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters above busy Interstate 5 in downtown Sacramento. “Wrong way to go Donald, get with it. Bad!”

Leading a group of 21 states as well as cities like New York City and Los Angeles, California submitted formal comments blasting the EPA’s proposal to rollback Obama-era emissions and fuel economy standards.

The EPA formally announced its proposal this past August, claiming that reducing fuel standards will remove red tape and allow automakers to produce cheaper cars. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has said the current fuel efficiency mandate is unrealistic and the feds think the target won’t be met by automakers. A final decision on a new standard is likely several months away, as the public comment period ended Friday.

The plan would freeze President Barack Obama’s standard requiring new cars and pickup trucks to average at least 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2025, instead leaving in place 2020 levels which require about 37 miles per gallon. In addition, the EPA could try to revoke California’s federal waiver, something it has never done and a move California has promised to challenge in court.

Brown, 80, and state Democrats argue the rollback would threaten the state’s progress on slashing greenhouse gas emissions. Just prior to the EPA’s announcement, regulators said the Golden State’s greenhouse gas pollution in 2016 fell below 1990 totals, reaching a clean air mandate four years ahead of schedule.

California still has the nation’s worst overall air quality, with over 10 million people living in areas classified by the EPA as having severely polluted air. Tailpipe emissions are the main contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

The state is moving forward with its own law to require automakers to keep meeting the state’s fuel economy targets if the federal standard is loosened. The California Air Resources Board approved the backup plan last month.

In its 400-page analysis delivered to the Trump administration Friday, the air resources board argues the federal proposal ignores “overwhelming scientific consensus” about the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases and relies on “flawed” technical analyses about consumer buying habits and potential job losses.

Mary Nichols, chair of the air resources board, told reporters the Trump administration has not budged from their initial proposal and “appears completely determined to go to a fight over pre-empting California.”

The EPA’s Wheeler stood his ground Friday, countering California hasn’t submitted a replacement plan and that the EPA is open to further meetings before it finalizes new emissions standards.

“It has been 10 weeks and the Trump administration has still yet to receive a counter-proposal. It is my hope that we can continue to work together and reach one national standard that will get more Americans into newer, cleaner and safer vehicles,” Wheeler said in a statement.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat seeking re-election, painted the feds’ proposal as “illegal” and “short-sighted.”

“While today’s news may be all about these pipe bombs that are threatening so many Americans, let us not ignore that there is a ticking time bomb growing in America the longer we wait to tackle climate change,” Becerra said.

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