Feds Push to Dismiss Suit Over California Emissions Standards

(CN) – Advancing the titanic fight over California’s longstanding ability to set car emissions standards, the Trump administration on Tuesday asked a federal judge to toss the state’s high-profile lawsuit due to lack of jurisdiction.

Los Angeles smog

The federal government claims California and 22 other states filed their challenge to the revocation of a waiver that allows the Golden State to set strict emissions requirements for auto manufacturers in the wrong court. The Trump administration wants the states’ case and other related challenges dismissed from a Washington D.C. federal court or transferred directly up the judicial ladder.

“Transferring these cases to the D.C. Circuit would thus advance judicial economy by allowing all of the pending cases to be consolidated for review before a single panel,” wrote U.S. Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark in a motion to dismiss dated Oct. 15 but made public by the courts Tuesday.

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.

Led by California, the states immediately responded last September by filing their challenge against the administration. The coalition claims the move by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Transportation Department, far exceeds the agency’s congressionally mandated power. The states further challenge the lack of research NHTSA undertook in issuing the rule.

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 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has routinely renewed the waiver over the past 50 years.

The feds’ dismissal argument focuses on technical language included in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. It claims the act not only gives the NHTSA exclusive authority to set fuel economy standards and pre-empt state waivers, but that challenges to new rules can only be brought in appeals courts. It wants U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to bump the case to U.S. Court of Appeals.

Clark argued moving the case wouldn’t be an inconvenience as the states just filed a similar challenge in the D.C. Circuit.

Last month the states sued the EPA, which made the decision to revoke California’s waiver along with the NHTSA. The move was meant to diversify the states’ legal fight and the petition was filed directly with the D.C. Circuit.

“They cannot credibly now make the argument that this geographic venue, chosen by all these plaintiffs from across the country, is somehow an inefficient or inconvenient forum for hearing these disputes,” Clark said.

As for Tuesday’s dismissal motion, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called it an attempt to “shoehorn” pre-emption laws and argued that the states’ lawsuit should be ripe for district court review. Becerra accuses the administration of an “overbroad reading” of pre-emption law and said it was overstating the difficulty of “adjudicating this case in the district court.”

“Congress expressly conveyed its clear intent that only certain regulations should go first to the courts of appeals, and the pre-emption regulation is not among them,” Becerra said in the filing dated Nov. 14 but also released Tuesday.

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.

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.

California along with conservation groups are battling the Trump administration over a variety of environmental issues, including a recent decision to open up more land for fracking. Becerra has sued the federal government over 60 times, while Gov. Gavin Newsom has accused Trump of “weaponizing” federal regulators like the EPA.

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