Pruitt talks tough over Calif. tailpipe standards

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2018

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had harsh words for California today over its regulation of automobile emission targets.

“California is not the arbiter of these issues,” Pruitt told Bloomberg.

While acknowledging the state’s authority to regulate tailpipe pollution, he said “that shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be.”

He also said he is not “presently” looking to extend standards beyond 2025, casting doubt on a possible deal sketched out by California last fall.

Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, had signaled a willingness to compromise on 2025 standards in exchange for deciding on 2030 targets.

“Being predictive about what’s going to be taking place out in 2030 is really hard,” Pruitt told Bloomberg. “I think it creates problems when you do that too aggressively. That’s not something we’re terribly focused on right now.”

Concerns that the Trump administration would revoke California’s special regulating authority has overshadowed talks between the administration and the state air board. There have also been tensions between EPA’s mission and that of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A spokeswoman for Global Automakers said the trade group would continue to work with regulators in Washington and California to ensure a smooth program.

“There are benefits to a consistent national approach to regulating greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards,” she said in response to Pruitt’s comments.

EPA has an April 1 deadline to decide whether to change the rules, although it could continue to flesh out its proposal for months afterward. The Obama-era targets would have brought average fuel efficiency to 36 mpg in 2025.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) blasted Pruitt for his comments hinting at a possible threat to California’s waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it to set its own tailpipe standards.

“Despite his oil-soaked proclamations, the ultimate authority on fuel economy emissions standards is not Scott Pruitt, it is the Clean Air Act,” he said. “The law is clear that California and other states such as Massachusetts are able to take action to issue these standards. … Since the passage of the Clean Air Act, over 100 waivers have been issued to California for vehicle emissions. None has ever been rescinded.”

Pruitt’s comments marked a split from the careful tone taken by the day-to-day negotiators, including EPA air chief Bill Wehrum, who has said he doesn’t want to touch California’s waiver “right away.”

“We’ve heard loud and clear that having one national program is really important,” Wehrum told representatives from the auto industry at an event in January. “We have been talking a lot amongst ourselves in the federal government, and we have also had what I consider productive conversations with CARB [the California Air Resources Board], and I look forward to continuing those conversations.”

California officials did not respond in time for publication. But Nichols told E&E News in January that “in-person talks” had been “good.”

“Nobody’s coming to the meeting and threatened that if we didn’t do what they wanted, they’d take away our waiver,” she said.