National News

California Sues Trump Administration Over Car Emissions Rules

Posted May 1, 2018 3:51 p.m. EDT

A coalition led by California sued the Trump administration over car emissions rules on Tuesday, escalating a revolt against a proposed rollback of fuel economy standards that threatens to split the country’s auto market.

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, California and its coalition called the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to weaken auto emissions rules unlawful and accused the agency of violating the Clean Air Act.

“States representing 140 million Americans are getting together to sue Outlaw Pruitt — not Administrator Pruitt, but Outlaw Pruitt,” Gov. Jerry Brown of California said at a news conference. “This is about health, it’s about life and death,” he said. “I’m going to fight it with everything I can.”

California has long been authorized under the 1970 Clean Air Act to write its own stricter air pollution rules, and a dozen other states have traditionally followed those standards, which are designed to curb earth-warming emissions from cars and light trucks.

In 2012, when the Obama administration set a comprehensive set of standards on greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy for cars and light trucks — aiming to roughly double the average fuel economy of new cars, SUVs and light trucks by 2025 — California agreed to harmonize its own regulations with the new federal standards.

But last spring, executives from the Big Three automakers went to the White House to ask for more lenient emissions rules, kicking off an effort by the administration to roll back those standards. The EPA, together with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has now drafted a new set of regulations that would dramatically weaken the Obama-era rules after 2020.

California had said it would stick with the tougher regulations, and had threatened to sue should Washington try to challenge its authority to follow its own air pollution rules. Tuesday’s lawsuit was seen as a pre-emptive move that calls the entire rollback unlawful.

“The evidence is irrefutable: Today’s clean car standards are achievable, science-based and a boon for hardworking American families. But the EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt refuse to do their job and enforce these standards,” the California attorney general, Xavier Becerra, said in a statement before the announcement. “Enough is enough,” he added.

California’s move brings the nation’s auto industry closer to a split into two markets as its legal challenge plays out in court: one that continues to follow stricter rules requiring cars to be more efficient and less polluting than the other.

The 18 jurisdictions joining in Tuesday’s lawsuit represent more than 40 percent of the U.S. auto market, California said. According to its news release, they are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

Automakers are scrambling to avert that outcome, urging for continued talks over a unified national program. They have asked for a direct meeting with President Donald Trump to try to avert an all-out weakening of regulations that they fear will now go well beyond what they themselves initially sought, according to two people with knowledge of the automakers’ plans.

Separately, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to the secretary of the Department of Transportation, Elaine Chao, and EPA's Pruitt asking that they abandon the rollback.

“Such a proposal, if finalized, would harm U.S. national and economic security, undermine efforts to combat global warming pollution, create regulatory and manufacturing uncertainty for the automobile industry and unnecessary litigation, increase the amount of gasoline consumers would have to buy, and runs counter to statements that both of you have made,” Carper wrote. “I urge you to immediately disavow this proposal.”

Environmental groups rallied in support of California and its coalition.

“The Trump administration’s plan to roll back our clean car and fuel economy standards will produce regulatory pandemonium, not regulatory certainty, for America’s auto industry,” Luke Tonachel, director of clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

“NRDC stands with California and the other states representing 140 million Americans in challenging this brazen attempt to gut standards that safeguard our health and our climate and save consumers billions of dollars at the pump.”