Wheeler to Calif.: ‘Don’t sue us’

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, April 5, 2019

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler today expressed hope that California would not sue the agency once it finalizes the rollback of Obama-era clean car rules.

“I hope when we come out with our final regulation, California takes a look at it … and they realize that this is the best regulation for the country as a whole and that they don’t sue us,” Wheeler said this morning at the Washington Auto Show.

“That would be my ultimate hope,” the EPA administrator said.

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are in the process of rolling back Obama-era fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for light-duty vehicles.

The two agencies are proposing to flatline fuel economy requirements through 2026 and preempt California from setting tougher tailpipe pollution rules than the federal government.

A coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit last year over the Trump administration’s initial bid to loosen the car rules (E&E News PM, May 1, 2018). California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) has hinted at the possibility of another lawsuit once the rollback is finalized.

More legal action became even more likely last month, when the White House announced it was breaking off negotiations with California over the car rules (Greenwire, Feb. 21).

“Our goal from the beginning was a 50-state solution,” Wheeler said today. “I met with [the California Air Resources Board] three times since taking the helm of EPA last July. But despite our best efforts, we could not reach a solution and decided to end the discussions.”

He continued, “We embrace federalism and the role of states, but federalism does not mean one state can dictate the standards for the entire nation.”

Asked when the Trump administration hopes to finalize the rollback, Wheeler hedged. “When I first worked at EPA, my boss told me, ‘Always talk in terms of seasons, not quarters, because seasons last a lot longer than people realize,'” he said.

“We expect to finalize it in the spring or early summer. You can check your calendar to see when that is,” he added, drawing scattered laughter from the audience.

Wheeler also announced the availability of new data on EPA’s website showing environmental progress in the auto manufacturing sector. The data shows total air emissions from auto manufacturing fell from 77 million pounds in 1996 to 15 million pounds in 2017, he said.

The EPA chief spoke for roughly 30 minutes at the Washington Auto Show to a group of reporters and auto industry representatives. His stump speech included a litany of familiar talking points, including an anecdote about President Trump asking him to clean up the nation’s air and water while reducing regulatory burdens.