Feds cite ‘uncertainty’ in bid to fast-track Calif. lawsuit

Source: By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2019

The federal government last night asked an appeals court to expedite one of the legal battles over California’s tailpipe emissions standards.

Government attorneys told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that it should hear arguments as early as next spring, given the immediacy of the issues at the heart of the dispute.

“These are extraordinary cases,” lawyers for EPA and the Department of Transportation wrote in their brief. “The standards in question are immediately impacting industry investment and production decisions in the multibillion-dollar automotive sector of the U.S. economy.

“The costly uncertainty these challenges are generating should be expeditiously resolved by a decision of this court — one way or the other,” they wrote.

Government attorneys proposed that the case be fully briefed by April, with oral arguments scheduled in spring 2020.

Environmentalists and states are fighting the Trump administration’s move to scrap a Clean Air Act waiver that lets the Golden State set its own greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles and allows other states to adopt California’s rules.

The lawsuit specifically targets a rule proposed by DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to block California from setting greenhouse gas thresholds that are more stringent than the federal government’s.

EPA and NHTSA say they want to corral all automakers and states under a uniform set of standards, but some states and automakers say the move will increase greenhouse gas emissions overall and ignite regulatory uncertainty.

Similar litigation also exists in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and there is a D.C. Circuit case challenging EPA’s move to revoke California’s waiver.

The question of venue is a critical factor in the timeline of the case, said Caitlin McCoy, a clean air and energy fellow with Harvard University’s Environmental & Energy Law Program.

“Whether that case is able to stay in the D.C. Circuit, thus proceeding more slowly towards a final decision, is going to be important,” she said.

“California is banking on that case moving slowly and not reaching the D.C. Circuit or Supreme Court until we’re potentially in a new administration,” McCoy said.