As Trump Moves to Revoke California Emissions Authority, State Leaders Poised to Challenge

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, right, flanked by Gov. Gavin Newsom, responds to a question concerning the Trump administration's pledge to revoke California's authority to set vehicle emissions standards.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, right, flanked by Gov. Gavin Newsom, responds to a question concerning the Trump administration's pledge to revoke California's authority to set vehicle emissions standards. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

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President Trump announced his plan Wednesday to strip California of its ability to set vehicle emissions standards, which have become the defacto national standard.

California’s attorney general will mount a legal challenge to block the Trump administration’s plan to revoke a waiver allowing the state to set its own vehicle emissions standards, officials said Wednesday after the president announced the action on Twitter.

No details about the revocation plan were immediately available from either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the U.S. Department of Transportation, which work together to oversee vehicle emissions standards.

News reports had previously outlined the move—which has been expected—and President Trump confirmed the plan Wednesday morning via Twitter, writing that the revocation was necessary to make vehicles both safer and cheaper.

“This will lead to more production because of this pricing and safety advantage, and also due to the fact that older, highly polluting cars, will be replaced by new, extremely environmentally friendly cars,” Trump wrote in part. “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.”

For more than 50 years, California has obtained federal waivers allowing it to set its own vehicle emissions standards, which are more stringent than those imposed by the federal government.

California’s autonomy on the issue has been a point of contention for the Trump administration as it has sought to relax Obama-era goals to raise fuel efficiency standards.

After the president’s announcement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra fired back.

“If arguments in the president’s tweets are the arguments they would use to propel this initiative, we are looking pretty good,” Becerra said at a press conference, flanked by Governor Gavin Newsom and California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols. “We will enjoy facing them in court if that is the argument they are going to make.”

Becerra said the president doesn’t have the executive authority to revoke the waiver and that prior attempts to strip the state of the waiver have been defeated in court.

The Trump administration has argued that revoking the waiver will help automakers by establishing uniform standards across the country, but others have countered that California’s standards work effectively as a national standard.

At least 13 other states have also adopted California’s standards. Because of the large auto market in California, the state’s standards have become de facto standards for auto manufacturers who want to sell cars in the United States.

Meanwhile automakers have pushed for a compromise between the administration and the state. They worry that failure to broker a compromise will create uncertainty and vulnerability in the industry.

In July, four automakers reached a voluntary deal with California on gas-mileage standards. An Obama-era plan would have required a fleetwide fuel efficiency average of 47.6 miles per gallon by 2025. BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen agreed to a deal that would raise standards at a slower pace, to around 50 miles per gallon by 2026. 

The Trump administration has sought to roll back Obama-era goals and instead keep fuel efficiency standards at 37 miles per gallon through 2025. 

Neither the EPA nor DOT would comment on the announcement on Wednesday. The agencies scheduled a joint press conference for Thursday morning. 

Nichols said doing away with California’s higher emissions standards would negatively impact public health across the country.

“If this were to prevail, because I don’t believe it will, millions of people in California and other states that follow our standards will be breathing dirtier air,” she said. “They will suffer from more pollution, more asthma cases, more hospitalizations, more premature deaths because the Trump administration is going to try to pull back on current standards.”

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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