By Andrew Harris, Ryan Beene and Jennifer A. Dlouhy
In a lawsuit filed Friday in Washington, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Governor Gavin Newsom, both Democrats, made good on their pledges to fight Trump’s decision, which the president said would cut environmental regulations and make cars cheaper. A coalition of 22 other states joined the suit.
California contends the Trump administration has exceeded the authority Congress granted to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The state says the administration is ignoring repeated efforts by federal lawmakers to preserve California’s power to improve its air quality by regulating automobile tailpipe emissions.
“Two courts have already upheld California’s emissions standards, rejecting the argument the Trump administration resurrects to justify its misguided preemption rule,” Becerra said in a statement announcing the suit. “Yet, the administration insists on attacking the authority of California and other states to tackle air pollution and protect public health.”
The lawsuit is the 60th filed against the Trump administration by the state of California, according to its attorney general. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is the lead defendant, along with the DOT, the NHTSA and its acting administrator, James Owens. A spokesman said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Trump announced Wednesday via Twitter his intent to revoke California’s ability to set emission standards. A day later, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler revealed the policy at a press conference during which he also chided the state for its poor air quality.
In its new policy, the administration asserted that the Transportation Department’s authority to set fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks preempts California’s ability to dictate tailpipe-emissions standards for greenhouse gases, even as the EPA has a nearly unbroken history over more than five decades of granting permission for the state to do so.
While the state was first granted authority to better combat its endemic urban smog problems in 1967, California remains home to seven of the 10 American cities with the worst air quality.
“California has the worst air quality in the United States,” Wheeler said, noting that tens of millions of people there reside in areas that don’t meet ambient air standards. “We hope California will focus on these issues.”
Still, the EPA rescinded a 2013 waiver that permitted the state to pursue its own greenhouse-gas-emissions standard and a zero-emission vehicle mandate, arguing the federal Clean Air Act prohibited both programs. The waiver withdrawal will take effect starting in the 2021 automotive model year.
The suing states contend the administration action is unjustifiably arbitrary and capricious, willfully misreading the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act as preempting state emission standards. They also say it defies the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to assess the impact of the administration’s action on the environment and public health.
The highway safety agency “conducted no analysis at all of the environmental impacts of a regulation that purports to preempt air pollution laws in effect in states that represent more than a third of the nation’s automobile market,” according to the lawsuit.
California alleges its emissions standards for light-duty vehicles are a longstanding, critical part of efforts by many other states to protect public health and welfare. In addition to granting California’s waivers on tailpipe greenhouse-gas limits and zero-emission vehicles, the federal government has given other states approval to rely on the underlying standards in meeting their own clean-air goals, according to the suit.
The energy conservation law that gave the Department of Transportation the authority to set fuel-economy standards did not also authorize the agency to establish similar requirements for zero-emission vehicles and other autos that run exclusively on alternative fuels, the suit says. California said its zero-emissions vehicle program is a necessary part of efforts to meet air-quality requirements, especially in some areas where automobiles are among the largest contributors “to toxic air pollution and to the formation of urban smog.”
On Thursday, California’s top air-pollution regulatory board approved the state’s voluntary compromise agreement with carmakers Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen AG, Honda Motor Co. and BMW AG.
Chao, the transportation secretary, said previously that the administration’s action would ensure that there would be just one set of national fuel economy standards, “as Congress mandated and intended.”
“No state has the authority to opt out of the nation’s rules and no state has a right to impose its policies on everybody else in our whole country,” she said.
More than a dozen states had previously elected to adopt California’s emissions regulations as their own: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
All of them joined in the lawsuit, as did Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Virginia and the District of Columbia, all of which have Democratic attorneys general. Los Angeles and New York City are also suing.