WASHINGTON – Escalating a battle over states’ rights and against climate change, California and 22 other states filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the Trump administration for revoking a Clean Air Act waiver that allowed the Golden State to set emissions rules that are stricter than the federal government.
The complaint was filed against the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., federal court, as activists in the global climate strike marched across the street on the national mall.
California – plus 22 other states, the District of Columbia and the cities of Los Angeles and New York – wants a federal judge to block the alternative federal regulations announced Thursday pre-empting state laws that regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger cars and light trucks.
The coalition alleges the move by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Transportation Department, far exceeds the agency’s congressionally mandated power. The states further challenge the lack of research NHTSA undertook in issuing the rule.
“Remarkably, NHTSA has conducted no analysis at all of the environmental impacts of a regulation that purports to preempt air pollution laws in effect in states that represent more than a third of the nation’s automobile market,” the complaint states.
The political dispute between California and the Trump administration began almost the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated, as he promised to roll back the Obama-era rule requiring auto manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency by 5% in all models by 2025.
California then announced its intention to establish its own rulemaking authority, granted by the Clean Air Act to establish its own fuel efficiency standards, and flexed that muscle by making a deal with Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen to meet stricter fuel efficiency standards.
The Trump administration’s attempt to revoke that independent authority spurred Friday’s lawsuit.
States from coast to coast joined California in the legal battle, including New York, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Hawaii.
Over the years, the Environmental Protection Agency granted waivers to several of the states joining California in the lawsuit to apply the Golden State’s emission standards instead of the federal regulations outlined in the Clean Air Act.
“Moreover, for the last decade, the federal government has harmonized its own greenhouse gas emissions standards and its fuel economy standards with the California standards,” the complaint states.
California argues that its longstanding emissions standards, going back over 60 years, are the bedrock of the state’s efforts to protect public health and meet goals for reducing air pollutants.
By 2025, the state projects, California standards will put more than 2 million additional zero-emission vehicles on the road, reducing greenhouse emissions by more than 66 million metric tons per year by 2030. The lawsuit points out that the drop in greenhouse gas adds up to more than the emissions churned out by all of California’s power plants combined.
But the EPA said President Trump is fulfilling his promise to the American people to “address and fix” current standards with the plan to override state regulations.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Department said Thursday that although it withdrew the Clean Air Act waiver it granted California under the Obama administration in 2013 — allowing the state to develop its own standards– the state can still enforce other local regulations in place to counter harmful smog-forming vehicle emissions.
“But California cannot misuse that authority to set national fuel economy standards and attempt to control national greenhouse gas emissions standards,” EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said in an email Friday. “We are confident we are correctly applying the law and will prevail in the courts.”
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler also said in a statement Thursday that the new federal regulations will provide “much-needed regulatory certainty for the automotive industry” and promote economic growth.
But undermining state sovereignty to regulate emissions, the lawsuit claims, will result in an increase in so-called criteria pollutants, including carbon monoxide, making it difficult to maintain national air quality standards.
“These emissions increases will also result in damage to the health of their citizens that will, in turn, increase health care costs for state plaintiffs; in lost days of work and school; and in damage to vegetation that will, in turn, harm state-owned parks and the agriculture, outdoor recreation, and tourism industries,” the complaint states.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Twitter, “Trump’s latest move is bad for our air. Bad for our health. Bad for our economy. We will see him in court.”
In a separate tweet earlier this week, in which he tagged the president, Newsom said lowering fuel emissions boosts the economy and allows families to pay less at the pump.
The NHTSA has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
— By Megan Mineiro