US environmental authorities under their new leadership are looking to weaken emission rules. California, which sees itself as clean mobility trendsetter, is threatening to hold on to the old ones. President Trump has already criticised California’s emission regulations. John Dyer reports from Boston.
American president Donald Trump and California leaders are on a collision course over the White House’s move to weaken the Golden State’s tough car emissions rules. The conflict is important because the size of California’s population and its economy make it a formidable opponent of the federal government in court.
California is ready to fight
California is seen as a trendsetter in auto markets throughout the US and a key player in the global fight against climate change
“If you look at what California has done to control greenhouse gas emissions, the tailpipe rule has done the largest amount of work,” said Stanford University Law Professor Michael Wara on Friday. “So California is going to fight, to deploy every resource it has, to keep this stuff, because this is big.”
The battle erupted on Wednesday when Trump announced in Detroit that he was going to review California’s rules, saying they were hurting the American economy. “We are going to ensure that any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs,” said Trump. “We’re going to be fair.”
The next day, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and other California leaders told administration officials they would oppose Trump’s moves
“President Trump’s decision today to weaken emission standards in cars is an unconscionable gift to polluters,” Brown wrote to Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. “Once again, you’ve put the interests of big oil ahead of clean air and politics ahead of science.”
2025 standards under threat
Trump is seeking to gut two sets of rules.
In 2009, as part of the multi-billion dollar bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors, automakers agreed to let California adopt tougher standards designed to increase cars’ fuel efficiency.
Slated for adoption in 2025, those standards would compel cars mileage of 23 kilometres per litre on average compared with 15 kilometres per litre today. They would also remove around 540 million metric tons of pollutants from the air and save California drivers around USD 1,600 annually in fuel costs, according to EPA studies.
California would go to court to keep the agreement in place, said the state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra. Under the agreement, the state and federal governments and automakers were slated to review the science and industry capacity to fulfil the deal in April 2018, so it’s too soon to end it now, he said.
“California is forward-leaning – you don’t become the world’s fifth largest economy by sitting back,” said Becerra in a statement. “For us, clean air, good-paying jobs and quality of life go hand in hand. For us, there’s no turning back in the fight against pollution.”
EPA waiver could be rescinded
At the same time, Trump is considering ending federal approval for California to set air standards that are tougher than the federal government’s.
The EPA has given California a waiver annually since the 1960s to impose the tougher air standards except in 2008, when ex-President George W. Bush rescinded the waiver for a short time before ex-President Barack Obama reinstated it.
Pruitt has said he would review this year’s waiver. California officials said they would fight attempts to rescind it in court. It’s not clear whether he could legally do that, however, said University of California-Davis Law Professor Richard Frank.
“It would be somewhat difficult and legally suspect for the Trump administration to try and withdraw a waiver that has been previously granted,” Frank said.
EPA head doubts human role
The EPA has not issued a comment to the press on its burgeoning disputes with the state.
But on Monday Pruitt told CNBC, a television broadcaster, that he doubted humans played a role in climate change.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact,” he said. “So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”