Calif. officials, Trump spar over Clean Air Act waiver

Source: By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2019

California’s top political leaders  defended the state’s right to set its own standards for clean cars and promised to fight the Trump administration’s bid to squash that power.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said the Trump administration lacks the legal grounds to revoke California’s Clean Air Act waiver, which gives the nation’s most populous state the right to set more stringent tailpipe emissions standards than federal ones.

The California trio also framed its stance as a climate change fight, saying there’s a dire need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re already seeing the way greenhouse gases and climate change are affecting our state from wildfires and droughts to superstorms, floods and mudslides,” Becerra said. “These changes affect not just our environment, but our economy and our health.”

Vehicle tailpipe emissions make up the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution, Becerra noted. California has more than 35 million vehicles on its roads.

Newsom said students who are protesting this week in Washington, D.C., and participating in climate strikes should pay attention to what the Trump administration is doing.

“This is the game changer,” Newsom said. “This is such a pivotal moment in the history of the climate change debate.”

The comments came on the heels of President Trump in tweets announcing he was revoking the waiver (Greenwire, Sept. 18).

“Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!” Trump tweeted. “Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”

Nichols rebuffed that, saying the new jobs are in building electric vehicles. Companies including Volkswagen AG are moving toward EVs because they know it’s the future, she said.

The California leaders did not say exactly how they plan to fight the Trump administration. That’s because they haven’t seen what arguments the Trump EPA will use to justify revoking the waiver, Becerra said.

Becerra said that Trump “doesn’t have the authority to do this.”

“We think we can prove that under the existing law, whether it’s environmental statutes that have been around for a long time or whether it’s violation of the Constitution, that this type of action won’t stand,” he added.

Becerra cited the 10th Amendment, which says that powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved for states.

Nichols said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is arguing that although California can police pollution for health reasons, it lacks the power to weigh in on greenhouse gas emissions, which is the role of the Department of Transportation. Nichols and Newsom said previous court cases have decided that in ways that favor California’s argument.

Though they didn’t specify, Massachusetts v. EPA, decided by the Supreme Court, drew a distinction between the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which regulates fuel economy, and the Clean Air Act, which regulates greenhouse gas emissions, said Julia Stein, project director for the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law.

In any case, Nichols said, “you can’t separate those two things.”

“We actually need these extra clean cars in order to meet the health standards that are set by the federal government that we violate now on a fairly regular basis” in Southern California and the state’s Central Valley, Nichols added.