California Sues To Block Trump From Revoking Its Clean Air Act Waiver
California, joined by 22 other states and jurisdictions, is suing to block the Administration's efforts to revoke the state's waiver to impose tougher clean air regulations.
Late last week, California and a group of other states filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration seeking to block the President’s effort to revoke the waiver to the Clean Air Act that allows California to set its own standards on air pollution and auto emissions:
California and 22 other states filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday against the Trump administration, challenging its decision to revoke the most-populous state’s right to set pollution limits on cars and light trucks.
The legal battle’s outcome will affect which vehicles Americans drive in the years to come, as well as the country’s effort to tackle climate change and the balance between federal and state power.
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in the escalating legal and political fight between President Trump and California, which has created uncertainty and divisions in the auto industry. Both domestic and foreign automakers are grappling with which standards to follow as they prepare to manufacture vehicles for U.S. consumers over the next decade.
On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department formally revoked the waiver allowing California to set stricter limits on tailpipe emissions than the federal government, as part of a broader effort to scale back federal rules requiring U.S. auto fleets to average nearly 51 miles per gallon by model year 2025. Trump officials have drafted a plan to freeze federal mileage standards at roughly 37 miles per gallon though model year 2026.
California had enjoyed a long-standing exemption under the Clean Air Act to ask for federal waivers to impose stricter air pollution standards, and received its most recent waiver as part of a broad agreement among the Obama administration, the auto industry and the state to set the first national carbon limits on vehicles.
In taking back the waiver, Trump officials argued that only the federal government has the right to set fuel economy standards under the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act and that California did not have the right to use its exemption under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon pollution linked to climate change because that ranks as a global problem.
In a statement, EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said that the waivers are only given so that California can tackle “local pollution.”
“EPA has granted those waivers over many years. But California cannot misuse that authority to set national fuel economy standards and attempt to control national greenhouse gas emissions standards,” she said. “We are confident we are correctly applying the law and will prevail in the courts.”
But Becerra, who has sued the Trump administration 60 times since the president took office, pointed to two 2007 federal court decisions as precedent that would bolster the state’s case in court. In both cases, Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep v. Crombie and Central Valley Chrysler-Jeep Inc. v. Goldstene, judges ruled that state limits on carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks did not violate existing federal law.
“Two courts have already upheld California’s emissions standards, rejecting the argument the Trump Administration resurrects to justify” the withdrawal, Becerra said.
Trump and his deputies argue that less stringent mileage requirements will keep the sticker price of vehicles lower and spur drivers to replace older cars with newer, safer models.
Revoking California’s waiver, the president tweeted, will make “cars substantially SAFER.”
The California waiver is rooted in provisions of the Clean Air Act of 1970 which was passed by a bipartisan Congress and passed into law by President Nixon. As part of that law and other subsequent environmental laws and regulations California was given broader authority to regulate environmental standards was due to issues such as smog and other forms of pollution which used to inundate areas such as Southern California, The intention was to allow California to adopt rules specifically designed to deal with its unique environmental issue without necessarily requiring the rest of the country to do the same. At the same time, the law also gave other states the authority to effectively sign on to the California waiver by adopting California’s requirements as their own.
For the most part, this waiver has been successful, California and the 14 other jurisdictions that have followed its standards have benefited from this as has the auto industry and the nation as a whole, especially to the extent that California’s standards have helped to set the pace for the rest of the nation. They’ve also been entirely consistent with the Republican/conservative belief in Federalism. Now, though, this Republican Administration has abandoned Federalism and is purporting to force California and these 14 other jurisdictions to follow one set of rules set in Washington rather than adopt standards that might be more appropriate for the environment in those states. From a philosophical point of view, this is obviously hypocritical since it is a fundamental abandonment of the principles of Federalism that conservatives used to believe in and to play right into the hands of the oil and gas industry, which would seem to be the primary beneficiary of the end of the California waiver.
The Complaint, which is embedded below, was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of California. 22 other states, and several local jurisdictions such as Los Angeles County in California. In essence, it alleges that the Trump Administration acted improperly when it went forward with the decision to revoke the California waiver both for procedural reasons and for reasons that are in conflict with existing Federal environmental law. On the procedural level, the Complaint raises a familiar argument that we have seen in a number of the lawsuits filed against the Trump and Obama Administrations.
Specifically, this includes the allegation that the Administration failed to comply with the procedural requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. As I’ve noted before, the APA is a law that governs the actions of regulatory agencies and other Executive Branch departments and prescribes the manner in which those entities must act when establishing or repealing regulations. Among other things, the law requires that, except in certain extraordinary circumstances, the agency must put any new rule it seeks to place in the Federal Register, including the repeal of regulations, up for what is called a ‘notice and comment’ period that allows members of the public and interested parties to put on the record comment and evidence regarding their position on the proposed rule. The proposed regulation cannot go into effect while this comment period is in effect, and the agency is generally required to consider each of the comments submitted on their own merits.
In addition to these procedural requirements, the APA also places certain substantive requirements on regulatory action, including but not limited to the requirements that it comply with existing Federal law, that it is not “arbitrary and capricious,” and that it is not being done for some ulterior purpose. In the Complaint, California and the other states raise a number of substantive defects with respect to the repeal of the California waiver that would seem to violate these substantive provisions of the APA.
It will be some time before we’re likely to see substantive action in this case, but for now, it seems to me as if California and her sister states have a strong argument on their side. Where and how far goes depends on how the court deals with these issues.
Here’s the Complaint: