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California Won't Let Trump Destroy Emission Standards Without a Fight

Trump wants to undo Obama's Clean Car Rules, but some states won't let it happen.
Image: Daniel R. Blume

The Trump administration took another step at trying to undo Obama's climate change programs this week by going after vehicle emissions standards. While on a trip to Detroit to meet with automobile executives and workers, Trump announced that he would be directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) to reconsider the emission standards it set under the Obama Administration's Clean Car Rules.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) later released their intention to do so in a federal register. The Obama-era emissions standards are expected to increase the country's average automobile mileage to over 50 miles per gallon by 2025, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion tons, and save consumers almost 2 trillion dollars at the pump.

If, or when the emission standards are relaxed, however, California, and perhaps a dozen other states, won't be following suit. Due to its unfortunate past with air pollution, California has had special consideration under the Clean Air Act for decades and is granted waivers by the EPA allowing it to enforce stricter emissions standards if necessary. In 2012, it got one to tighten up its vehicle emissions. Since then, a dozen other states have adopted its program.

In a letter dated March 15 to EPA Administrator and fossil fuel buddy Scott Pruitt, Governor Jerry Brown of California said "President Trump's decision today to weaken emission standards in cars is an unconscionable gift to polluters. Once again, you've put the interests of big oil ahead of clean air and politics ahead of science."

The Trump Administration seems to be trying to avoid a massive confrontation with blue states over climate change by leaving the waivers untouched, but California, a leader in setting greenhouse gas limits on cars, is ready to battle whether their waiver is revoked or not.

When the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an association of 12 of the largest car makers, challenged the emissions standards in court—almost in tandem with the President's directive—California promptly filed a motion to defend the standards in court.

"California is forward-leaning – you don't become the world's fifth largest economy by sitting back," said Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a public 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," he said.

The White House did not say specifically if they would try to revoke the waivers of California and a dozen other states, but seemed to allude to the possibility. Whether they actually have the legal ability to do that is another matter entirely. A senior White House official told reporters on Tuesday that the administration would cross that bridge in 2018, when the new standards are due.

Until then, the current limits—the ones estimated to save each car owner $1,650, and reduce oil consumption by 40 billion gallons of refined gasoline and diesel fuel—will continue to remain.