Is Trump On The Brink Of Another Legal Battle With California?

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Trump administration may be on the brink of another legal battle against California, and it has nothing to do with immigration. This time it’s over Obama-era fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

Should Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt deny California’s waiver to set its own fuel economy rules, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, is “prepared to take whatever action, legal or otherwise, that we must to protect our economy, our environment and the public health of people of California.”

“What we do, we do because we think it’s the right thing,” said Becerra, the Washington Post reported. “We’re not interested in participating in a race to the bottom.”

EPA is expected to repeal Obama-era fuel economy rules, but it’s unclear how the agency will handle California’s special waiver. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air chief Bill Wehrum met with California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

EPA did not divulge any details of the meeting, though Pruitt said on Bloomberg TV in early March that California “shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be” in regards to greenhouse gas emissions.

Regardless, critics of California’s waiver have petitioned EPA. Free market groups sent a letter to Pruitt on Wednesday asking him not to grant California a waiver.

With such a commanding share of the U.S. auto market, free market groups argue California can use its waiver to set de facto national policy. California dominates 35 percent of the U.S. market and dozens of states follow their standards.

Free marketeers, including Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, called “for the revocation of California’s waiver from the Clean Air Act” that allows the state to set its own, higher fuel economy regulations.”

“California’s stated goal is to remove all gasoline-powered vehicles from the roads and replace them with their electric counterparts, and the state uses the Clean Air Act waiver to achieve this goal,” the groups wrote to Pruitt.

“In addition, because the Energy Policy and Conservation Act forbids any state from adopting a law related to fuel economy standards, California’s greenhouse gas emission standards should be regarded as preempted by Federal statute,” the groups added.

Pruitt is expected to repeal Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for cars built in 2022 though 2025. In 2012, the Obama administration mandated cars get 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 as part of his climate agenda.

But should Pruitt reduce the national standard while allowing California to set its own has some automakers worried about having to comply with two different standards.

Ford executives on Tuesday called for “one set of standards nationally, along with additional flexibility to help us provide more affordable options for our customers.” The auto executives also reaffirmed their commitment to meeting the goals of the Paris climate accord.

Essentially, automakers want to protect investments they made in increasing vehicle fuel efficiency, despite pressing the administration to review the Obama-era regulations last year. Now, companies want the 2025 standards to remain in place, but have more regulatory flexibility to meet them.

The Obama administration granted California a waiver in 2008 to set higher fuel standards. The state passed a global warming law four years earlier to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

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