17 states, D.C. sue EPA over bid to lower tailpipe targets

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 2, 2018

California, 16 other states and the District of Columbia sued the Trump administration today over its push to loosen clean car standards, the opening shot in what is sure to become a lengthy legal battle.

The lawsuitalleges that EPA acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” by deciding that the Obama-era targets for tailpipe exhaust were too ambitious. Plaintiffs filed their complaint in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Obama-era rules for model years 2022 to 2025 sought to bring average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg, or 36 mpg in the real world. That’s 10 miles more than the average now.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt cast aside analysis from his own staff in his decision to lower the targets in an April 2 decision.

“The administrator is running roughshod over the laws of this country and the health of our people,” Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said in a press conference announcing the move today. “I take this as an existential threat, to America, California and the world, and I will fight it with everything I can.”

The April 2 determination by Pruitt started a new rulemaking process with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set new, lower targets.

The agencies are in the final stages of the drafting and could release it as soon as next month. Early reports indicate the administration is aiming to freeze fuel economy at 2020 levels (E&E News PM, April 27).

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) called the justification for Pruitt’s decision a “phony study.”

The 18 jurisdictions joining the lawsuit represent 43 percent of the U.S. automobile market. They either have Democratic governors and/or attorneys general.

Other than California and New York, they include Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Virginia.

The first 13 have adopted California’s tougher rules, which would let them have stricter requirements for cars sold in their states. The last four would be subject to Pruitt’s revised, lower standards and joined the lawsuit in solidarity.

The states are alleging that Pruitt’s decision, while a pending rulemaking, was a final action that violated the Administrative Procedure Act and Clean Air Act and that went back on an Obama-era agreement with automakers and California.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters this afternoon that the administration “certainly” supports the rights of states and is reviewing the lawsuit.

Waiver fight

The lawsuit does not address California’s waiver under the Clean Air Act to set more stringent standards.

Pruitt has said he is not looking to revoke California’s waiver “at present,” but early drafts of the administration’s plans show it plans to argue against California’s special authority.

Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board, cast the lawsuit as a “precautionary measure” to prevent EPA from loosening the rules based on what she called a “worthless” evaluation of their feasibility.

Negotiations over the new rules have stalled between the two sides — the administration and California — which haven’t exchanged any data or documents.

California and its allies are widely expected to sue again once the administration finishes its rulemaking.

“The state of California is not looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration, but we are ready for one, especially when the stakes are so high for our economy, our families and our planet,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

California has so far won all its other lawsuits against the Trump administration alleging violations of the Administrative Procedure Act.

Reporters Maxine Joselow and Hannah Northey contributed.