So much for states’ rights.
On Wednesday, President Trump announced his administration’s intention to strip California of its ability to set its own automobile emissions standards, revoking an Obama-era Clean Air Act waiver that allowed the state impose stricter regulations than those mandated federally. The move is the latest in a string of attacks from the White House against the environment, the state of California, and the policies of Trump’s predecessor, and it is expected to result in a legal battle between the state and the federal government that could ultimately reach the Supreme Court.
“The Trump Administration is revoking California’s Federal Waiver on emissions in order to produce far less expensive cars for the consumer, while at the same time making the cars substantially SAFER,” the president tweeted in announcing the news, which was initially reported on Tuesday. “There will be very little difference in emissions between the California Standard and the new U.S. Standard, but the cars will be far safer and much less expensive,” he added. “Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”
In addition to the impact the action will have on greenhouse gas emissions, the move to block a state from setting its own standards is starkly at odds with Republicans’ supposed longstanding commitment to states rights.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler told the National Automobile Dealers Association on Tuesday that this was about protecting other states from California: “We embrace federalism and the role of the states, but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the nation.”
California officials are finding that pretzel of logic unappetizing. In a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Attorney General Xavier Becerra described the move as a “desperate plan to rob our state of its longstanding authority to set vehicle emissions standards.”
“Our message to those who claim to support states’ rights: don’t trample on ours,” added Becerra, who on Tuesday tweeted that he will take the administration to court if the waiver is revoked. “Doing so would be an attempt to undo the progress we’ve made over the past decades. We can’t afford that here in California. We cannot afford to backslide in our battle against climate change.”
“We will prevail,” proclaimed Governor Gavin Newsom, who spoke after Becerra.
Today's actions represent another act in Donald Trump's political theater. A failed attempt to assert power. A continuation of a political vendetta against CA and our progress.
Bad news for him — we will prevail. See you in court. https://t.co/mDRsk6QRw2
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 18, 2019
Though cars may be cheaper without heightened emissions standards, they will obviously be less fuel-efficient, forcing Americans to spend more on gas. “Your standards will cost consumers $400 billion,” Newsom tweeted shortly before speaking in California. “Result in 320 billion more gallons of oil burned and spewed into our air. And hurt car companies’ ability to compete in a global market. It’s bad for our air. Bad for our health. Bad for our economy.”
The announcement the wavier will be revoked comes as the Trump administration continues to plan to ax a 2012 rule the Obama administration implemented that required automakers to continually raise vehicle efficiency standards, a plan that would would cut billions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Automobile exhaust is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The administration’s plan to end the Obama’s 2012 emissions regulation and weaken tailpipe standards has been widely opposed by automakers, 17 of which sent a letter to the administration this summer asking it to reconsider.
In the meantime, the White House figured it might as well revoke California’s Clean Air Act waiver. “California won’t ever wait for permission from Washington to protect the health and safety of children and families,” Newsom said on Tuesday. “While the White House has abdicated its responsibility to the rest of the world on cutting emissions and fighting global warming, California has stepped up. In July, we came to landmark voluntary agreements with four major automakers to reduce vehicle emissions and oppose Washington’s rollback of clean air standards. We are showing it can be done.”
In addition to the automakers that in July agreed to abide by California’s emissions standards, 13 other states and the District of Columbia said they would adopt the standards. The Trump administration’s decision to revoke the waiver allowing California to diverge from the federal standards could ultimately prevent any state from regulating its own emissions, depending on how it plays out in court.
And it will play out in court, as Becerra made clear on Tuesday. “You have no basis and no authority to pull this waiver,” he wrote. “We’re ready to fight for a future that you seem unable to comprehend; we’ll see you in court if you stand in our way.”