Trump administration not so interested in states’ rights when it comes to California

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Andrew Wheeler, then acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, listens as President Trump speaks in 2018. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)

President Trump likes to cast himself as a champion of states’ rights. But he stops short when it comes to California and other liberal states.

The latest example comes from Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, which is on the cusp of revoking California’s authority to regulate heat-trapping emissions from automobiles inside the state.

The decision to spurn California was long expected, and is one in a series of salvos between Trump and one of the nation’s bluest states. The president has also targeted the homeless populations in Los Angeles and San Francisco, claiming during a trip to California yesterday they’re doing damage to the cities’ “prestige” real estate and the federal government is aiming to do something about it.

But it fits into a pattern of Trump’s team brushing aside environmental concerns from a number of states — even Republican-controlled ones — where leaders stand in the way of the interests of the oil and natural gas industry, a key Trump ally.

“This isn’t just about California,” Gay MacGregor, a former senior policy adviser at the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality who has been critical of the Trump administration, said in an e-mailed statement. “Apparently, the GOP is no longer the champion of states’ rights or clean air.”

The EPA declined to comment on the forthcoming announcemen regarding emissions to The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis. But on Tuesday, the agency’s top official defended the Trump administration’s approach to states’ rights.

“We embrace federalism and the role of the states, but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the nation,” EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said in a speech to the National Automobile Dealers Association.

As Eilperin and Dennis report, the EPA on Wednesday intends to withdraw California’s authority to implement more stringent fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks than what the federal government requires.

For decades, the EPA has repeatedly approved California’s waivers to set its own auto standards under the Clean Air Act. The authors of the landmark environmental law gave the state a way to tackle pollution more aggressively since its car-choked highways gave Los Angeles and other California cities some of the worst smog in the country.

California is not the only state targeted by the EPA’s actions recently.

Last month, the agency took a steptoward limiting states’ power to stymie energy projects that cross over state lines. The move seems meant to counter New York, whose governor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, has tried to block a number of proposed natural gas pipelines using the state’s review authority under the Clean Water Act.

The EPA’s proposed rule would limit New York and other states to looking only at issues of water quality when approving pipelines — not any broader concern, such as climate change.

Likewise, one of Wheeler’s former Cabinet counterparts, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, clashed with local leaders along the coasts when the administration in 2018 tried to expand offshore drilling across the Atlantic and Pacific.

Nearly every governor along both coasts — both Democrat and Republican — opposeddrilling off their shores for fear of hurting their tourism and fishing industries. But only one of Trump’s political allies, then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), was toldhis state would be dropped from the drilling plans.

In the months since unveiling the department’s proposal to expand offshore leases, Zinke has left the administration and his successor, David Bernhardt, has paused the plans.

In the case of California’s auto emissions standards, Wheeler is concerned about the overwhelming influence regulations in the most populous state have on the rest of the country. Indeed, 13 other states and the District of Columbia have committed to following California’s rules if they differ from those of the federal government.

Trump’s team is seeking to roll back tailpipe pollution rules set by the Obama administration to curb climate change, which were set in consultation with California, and set weaker Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or “CAFE,” standards nationwide.

“To borrow from Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry,” EPA chief Wheeler said, “CAFE does not stand for California Assumes Federal Empowerment.”