WASHINGTON (CN) – Telling lawmakers the move will hurt U.S. efforts to fight climate change with potentially disastrous consequences, former California Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday railed against the Trump administration’s decision to roll back Obama-era fuel economy standards on cars.
“This is not about me. I’m older than all of you guys, I’ll be dead,” Brown told a House subcommittee Tuesday. “But your kids are going to be alive and they’re going to face a terrible future. And if you don’t face the reality and do something about it, you are complicit.”
Brown, who served as California governor from 1975 to 1983 and then again from 2011 until this year, came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to plead with Congress for action on climate change, specifically focusing on the Trump administration’s proposed SAFE Vehicles Rule, which would freeze federal fuel economy standards at the levels for 2020 model years, and its decision to revoke California’s own standards.
Thanks to a special provision in the Clean Air Act, California has long enjoyed the ability to set its own emissions standards for motor vehicles.
The Obama administration granted the state one such waiver, giving California the ability to set greenhouse gas emissions standards for new cars. This regulation is effectively similar to a fuel economy standard because how much greenhouse gas a car emits is directly related to how much fuel it uses.
In 2012, the Obama administration followed up and put in place new federal fuel economy standards that aimed to hit an average of 54 miles per gallon on new vehicles by 2025. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have adopted California’s more stringent standards as well.
But President Donald Trump has reversed course on both fronts, first last year announcing a roll back of the increased fuel economy standards ushered in by Obama and then revoking California’s waiver in September. In pulling the waiver, the administration argued there should be one national standard for fuel efficiency rather than a state-by-state patchwork for automakers to navigate.
The move has led to numerous legal challenges, including a petition for review the Environmental Defense Fund filed in September challenging the revocation of the California waiver.
A group of automakers that includes General Motors, Mazda and Toyota made waves on Monday night by siding with the Trump administration’s authority to revoke the California wavier, saying in a motion to intervene in the case that California’s standards have plunged the industry into uncertainty.
That filing came on the eve of Tuesday’s hearing before the House Subcommittee on Environment in which Brown gave fiery testimony in defense of the California standards. As wildfires rage in his home state, Brown accused Republicans of having a “flat earth” view of climate change that will fall particularly hard on the Golden State.
“California is burning, while the deniers make a joke out of the standards that protect us all,” Brown said.
Antonio Bento, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Southern California, also cast doubt on the Trump administration’s economic justification for the new standards, saying flaws in the administration’s modeling meant it failed to account for some $112 billion in costs from the rollback.
“As far as I can tell, there is really no economic reason, no environmental gain, no greenhouse gas emissions savings from the rollback,” Bento said.
While Democrats have been outraged over Trump’s walk back of the Obama fuel economy standards, the administration and Republicans in Congress have defended the move as important for creating jobs and lowering the cost of cars.
Bento, however, pushed back on the notion that cars are more expensive because of rising fuel economy standards, instead pointing the finger primarily at the gadgets people expect in their new cars.
Representative James Comer, R-Ky., echoed the Trump administration’s rationale when pushing back on Brown’s testimony, saying the entire United States should fall under the same standards
“We can’t have an environment where every state has its own emissions plan,” Comer said. “That’s uncertainty to the industry that I think is arguably the most important industry in America – the automotive industry.”
Before the discussion of the fuel economy standards began, the hearing offered a view into how the impeachment inquiry has come to dominate Congress. After Comer, the top Republican on the subcommittee, finished his opening statement, Republicans brought up a motion to adjourn the hearing.
Republicans objected to the hearing being held at the same time as a high-profile deposition in the impeachment inquiry, saying because they sit on one of the three committees with access to the deposition, they should not have to choose between the hearing and the testimony.
“I want to participate in this hearing, but I also feel the need to be in the SCIF, because we’re only one of three committees that’s allowed to be in the room” Representative Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., said, referring to the secure basement room in which impeachment inquiry interviews are being conducted. “I can do a lot of things, I can’t be in two places at once.”
When Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona offered the motion, there were more Republicans in attendance at the hearing than Democrats, leading Representative Harley Rouda, D-Calif., to delay voting on the motion until more members of his caucus arrived. Rouda said the committee was waiting for a staff member to arrive to take the tally, but took the vote when enough Democrats were in attendance to defeat the motion.
He later accused Republicans of being disingenuous with their complaints.
“I have been in the SCIF room for many of these witness depositions. Many of the members that are afforded the ability from this committee to go there have not been in many of those depositions,” Rouda said.