States sue EPA, In a major struggle over the future of America’s auto industry and the amount of pollution that cars and light trucks will be able to emit, California and more than a dozen other states filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the Trump administration’s move to weaken national vehicle emissions standards.
“I take this as an existential threat to America, to California and to the world,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a Tuesday news conference announcing the lawsuit, “and I’m going to fight it in any way that I can.”
The effort to block EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt from relaxing national auto emissions standards is the latest battle in an intensifying clash between California and Washington over environmental policy. The lawsuit, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, marks California’s 32nd legal challenge to the Trump administration and the 10th against Pruitt’s EPA, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
The 18 jurisdictions that filed the suit make up 43 percent of the U.S. automobile market and approximately 140 million people: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
The crux of the argument: The EPA failed to follow its own rules and violated the Clean Air Act as it moved to abandon the standards.
“This is a science-based attack that we make on these characters in Washington who in the name of making America great are making us weak and making the world more dangerous and unsafe, because climate change is not a joke,” Brown said. “The fires, the floods, the mudslides, the rising sea level, the disease vectors, the migrations, the turmoil that’s going to come about, this is real stuff, and if Pruitt doesn’t get it and if Trump doesn’t get it either, they’ve got to go.”
The national standards, first announced in 2009, are based on California’s tough air pollution rules for cars and would require that the average fuel economy for new passenger vehicles double by 2025 to about 54 miles per gallon. The standards set such strict greenhouse gas emissions limits that to meet the federal targets, car makers will have to manufacture vehicles that achieve better gas mileage, along with building more electric and plug-in vehicles.
That deal to adopt the new rules, one of the central environmental accomplishments of the Obama administration, was struck shortly after President Barack Obama came into office. In exchange, the auto industry was given a multi-billion-dollar federal bailout when it was struggling during the Great Recession.
Before Obama left office in January 2017, the EPA issued a report saying that the standards were still achievable and should not be altered. But after Trump won the presidency, the auto industry launched a major push to overturn the rules, saying that they were too stringent and would force car companies to make vehicles that the public wouldn’t buy.
Pruitt, a Republican former Oklahoma attorney general who has doubted the science of climate change and worked to roll back numerous environmental laws at the request of industry, has drafted a new set of regulations to overturn the Obama auto emission standards, the New York Times reported last week.
Those rules have been sent to the White House for review, but have not yet been made public. The Times reported that the draft includes eight options, with the preferred recommendation being to freeze fuel-economy standards at 2020 levels, which could reduce the fuel economy standard to 40 miles per gallon or less.
EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said the agency would not comment on the lawsuit. She directed questions about Pruitt’s rationale to a statement from early April in which he wrote that the agency under Obama “set the standards too high”, that the “Obama administration’s determination was wrong,” and that — in a jab at California — one state shouldn’t “dictate standards for the rest of the country.”
“EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allow auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars,” Pruitt wrote.
Democratic politicians, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, applauded the lawsuit on Tuesday. “The Trump administration cannot ignore the science and the law,” Feinstein said. “If the administration continues down this path to weaken the fuel economy standards set in conjunction with California, they’ll be inviting additional lawsuits.”
Environmental groups also cheered the states’ move. “Scott Pruitt is recklessly disregarding the vast technical and economic bases for America’s clean car standards,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, “and instead launching an all-out attack that risks Americans’ health and their pocketbooks. We fully support the states’ legal challenge.”
Under the federal Clean Air Act, signed by Richard Nixon in 1970, California has the ability to set its own tailpipe pollution standards that are tougher than federal standards. That’s because when the law was signed, California had the nation’s worst smog problem. Over the years, in part because of California’s rules, air pollution from new cars has fallen more than 90 percent per vehicle.
Every president except for George W. Bush has granted California a waiver under the Clean Air Act to put tougher standards in place. When Bush denied California’s request, the state sued. But before the lawsuit ended, Obama took office and granted the waiver, setting in motion the standards that the Trump administration is now trying to roll back.
A poll taken last month by the American Lung Association found that by a 65-26 percent margin, Americans support keeping in place the existing tough fuel economy standards.
The main trade association for the auto industry had not responded to the lawsuit by midday Tuesday. Last month, however, when the Trump administration first indicated that it would begin the process to change the Obama administration rules, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers praised the news.
“We appreciate that the administration is working to find a way to both increase fuel economy standards and keep new vehicles affordable to more Americans,” the alliance said in an April 2 statement.
But reflecting the growing concern from the auto industry that a drawn-out battle in court between California and the Trump administration could result in uncertainty, the alliance added that it hopes to work with California. “Maintaining a single national program” it said, “is critical to ensuring that cars remain affordable.”