Red states side with Trump in Calif. waiver fight

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2021

A coalition of Republican attorneys general yesterday urged a federal appeals court to swiftly resolve a legal battle over former President Trump’s decision to scrap California’s vehicle emissions waiver.

Top attorneys from 12 states asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reject the Biden administration’s Monday request to pause the litigation (Climatewire, Feb. 2).

The states had previously intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the Trump administration (Climatewire, Sept. 22, 2020).

At issue in the case is whether the federal government can grant California a waiver under Section 209(b)(1) of the Clean Air Act.

For decades, the waiver has given California the legal authority to set tougher greenhouse gas standards for cars than those of the federal government.

But under Trump, EPA revoked the waiver as part of its rollback of the clean car standards established by former President Obama.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, also argued that California was preempted from setting the tougher rules by the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act.

“The federal government’s consideration of whether to grant a waiver is a reason to expedite the resolution of this case — it is not a reason to refrain from deciding it,” the attorneys general wrote yesterday.

“If nothing else, it is an open and serious question whether Section 209(b)(1) is constitutional,” they added. “It would behoove all the parties to know the answer to that question before, not after, the federal government considers again whether to grant California a waiver under Section 209(b)(1).”

The Republican attorneys general hailed from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

Conversely, Democratic attorneys general and environmental groups sued over Trump’s withdrawal of the waiver, arguing that it violated states’ rights as well as the intent of Congress.

Yesterday’s filing only addressed the first part of Trump’s rollback of the clean car standards. The second part significantly weakened the Obama-era greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks.

Regardless of the court battle, Biden is expected to direct EPA and NHTSA to restore California’s waiver and craft ambitious new clean car rules that spur the adoption of electric vehicles nationwide.