In A Turn Away From Federalism, Trump Will Revoke California’s Clean Air Act Waiver

In a rebuke to traditional conservative views of Federalism, the Trump Administration intends to revoke California's authority to set its own clean air standards,

For the last several decades, California, in recognition of both its widely varied climate and that importance of that climate to its vibrant tourism and agricultural industries, has had the authority to set its own standards with respect to automobile emissions and other environmental measures. One side effect of that authority has been the fact that California has had the ability to essentially set a standard for much of the rest of the nation due to the fact that it is, generally speaking, cost-prohibitive for automakers to make one set of cars that meet the basic Federal automotive guidelines and another set that meet California’s standards, which have typically been higher than those set by Washington. Indeed, those standards set by California have been adopted by thirteen other states and the District of Columbia, meaning that the California standards directly impact more than half the U.S. population due both to existing law and the fact that “California” compliant cars are widely available in their state due to the fact that its easier for manufacturers to adhere to the more stringent standards in California than try to differentiate car sales by state.

Now, the Trump Administration wants to do away with a great deal of that authority and force California to accept the standards set by Washington:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is expected on Wednesday to formally revoke California’s authority to set auto emissions rules that are stricter than federal standards, taking a major step forward in its wide-ranging attack on government efforts to fight climate change.

The formal abolishment of one of California’s signature environmental policies — tailpipe pollution is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States — will be announced Wednesday afternoon at the Washington headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mr. Trump at the time will be traveling in California, where he is scheduled to attend fund-raisers in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.

Lawyers said the action takes the administration into uncharted legal territory in its battle with the state, which has vowed to fight the change all the way to the Supreme Court.

“This is unprecedented and a tremendously big deal,” said Richard L. Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University, noting that no administration has ever revoked a state’s authority to regulate its own air quality in the past.

In a speech on Tuesday, Andrew Wheeler, the head of the E.P.A., said, “We embrace federalism and the role of the states, but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the nation.”

The attack on California is only the latest in a broad array of efforts to weaken climate change regulations by a president who has repeatedly expressed skepticism about the scientific consensus that global warming is human-caused. The administration plans to weaken auto emissions standards nationwide, has rolled back rules governing coal-burning power plants and eased restrictions on energy companies governing leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

A revocation of the California waiver would have national significance. Thirteen other states follow California’s tighter standards, together representing roughly a third of the national auto market.

Legal experts said that if Mr. Trump’s move was ultimately held up by the Supreme Court, it could permanently block states from regulating vehicle greenhouse gas pollution. If it was rejected by the Supreme Court, it would allow states to set separate tailpipe pollution standards from those set by the federal government.

The outcome could split the United States auto market, with some states adhering to stricter pollution standards than others. For automakers, that would be a nightmare.

Opponents of the move noted that weakening California’s authority on emissions is directly at odds with the administration’s position on other vital issues — such as gun restrictions and abortion laws — that individual states have the right to set their own rules. “Trump has married his administration-wide hostility to the environment to his personal vendetta against California,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, an advocacy group.

More from The Washington Post:

The Trump administration plans this week to revoke California’s long-standing right to set stricter air pollution standards for cars and light trucks, the latest step in a broad campaign to undermine Obama-era policies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, two senior administration officials said.

The move threatens to set in motion a massive legal battle between California and the federal government, plunge automakers into a prolonged period of uncertainty and create turmoil in the nation’s auto market.

The Environmental Protection Agency declined to comment on the matter. But in a speech Tuesday to the National Automobile Dealers Association, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler made his intentions clear.

“We embrace federalism and the role of the states, but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the nation,” he said.

Already, 13 states and the District of Columbia have vowed to adopt California’s standards if they diverge from the federal government’s, as have several major automakers. California leaders on Tuesday said they will fight any challenge to their autonomy.

“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,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said. “It’s a move that could have devastating consequences for our kids’ health and the air we breathe, if California were to roll over. But we will not.”

Echoing the governor, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has sued the Trump administration on a range of issues, vowed to head back to court, saying California’s clean car standards are “achievable, science-based, and a boon for hard-working American families and public health.”

The official announcement had been scheduled for Wednesday, during President Trump’s trip to California, but after the news broke Tuesday, the administration postponed the policy rollout by at least a day.

Trump’s move is likely to be unpopular nationwide and in California, with Americans widely supportive of stricter fuel efficiency standards. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Friday found 66 percent of Americans oppose Trump’s plan to freeze fuel efficiency standards rather than enforce the Obama administration’s targets for 2025.

A nearly identical 67 percent majority says they support state governments setting stricter fuel efficiency targets than the federal government.

Among Californians, the survey found 68 percent oppose Trump’s relaxation of mileage standards, while 61 percent support California’s stricter standards.

(…)

By seeking to strip California of its autonomy, Trump officials are forcing auto companies to choose whether they will side with the state or with the federal government. As part of July’s deal with the California Air Resources Board, the four carmakers agreed to support the state’s right to set its own tailpipe standards.

Environmentalists promised to join California in its legal opposition.

“There’s nothing in the Clean Air Act or EPA regulations providing for this unprecedented action,” Martha Roberts, a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in an interview. “The legislative history is explicit about broad authority for California. This is very well established legal authority that’s firmly anchored in the Clean Air Act.”
Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, predicted in an interview that the move actually could make it easier for automakers to embrace the White House’s proposed rollback of gas mileage standards.

“The only reason the automakers are not on board with Trump is because they’re afraid of the retaliation from California if Trump loses,” Lewis said.

It is unclear who would prevail in a legal fight over California’s waiver.

The state’s air regulators have consistently argued that they are limiting carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, rather than overtly setting mileage standards.

Margo Oge, who directed the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality from 1994 to 2012, said in an interview that California can make a strong case that it needs to curb these pollutants because climate change worsens ozone, which helps create smog.

“California has demonstrated that by getting a greenhouse gas emissions waiver, it can also reduce ozone pollution, because the data is very strong,” she said.

But even Obama administration officials acknowledged that efforts to curb CO2 emissions from autos are inextricably linked to stricter mileage standards. The 2010 rule published by EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted that nearly 95 percent of emissions from cars and light trucks stem from motor fuel combustion.

Auto industry officials said they continue to hope that federal and state officials can compromise on a single national standard, despite no evidence of a deal in sight.

“Automakers have said many times that we support year-over-year increases in fuel economy standards that align with marketplace realities,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, “and we support one national program as the best path to preserve good auto jobs and keep new vehicles affordable for more Americans.”

Leaving the environmental and scientific arguments, to the side for those with more expertise to comment on, what strikes me about this anticipated move by the Administration the most is the extent to which it abandons long-standing Republican and conservative beliefs in the Federalism in favor of apparent fealty to the oil and gas industry. Traditionally, Republicans and those on the right have favored the idea of allowing states more authority to set policy in areas that have traditionally been the province of the Federal Government.

During the Reagan and both Bush Administration’s, for example, conservatives spoke positively of the idea of the states acting as “laboratories of democracy” where ideas that might or might not work on the national level can be implemented and, if they worked, perhaps implemented on a broader basis nationwide. It has also been the case that Republicans have worked on implementing policies at the Federal level that attempted to devolve Federal Government authority to the states where, presumably, policies that more closely match the needs of individual states and regions of the country can be drafted, passed into law, and implemented. Based on this idea, Republicans have given states more authority in areas ranging from the environment and education to welfare policy and criminal law.

The California waiver, which was rooted in provisions of the Clean Air Act of 1970 which was passed by a bipartisan Congress and passed into law by President Nixon, is rooted in this idea. Among the reasons that 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.

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 is prepared to abandon Federalism and 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.

No doubt, the decision to revoke the waiver will be followed by litigation by the states and possibly other Plaintiffs. I can’t comment on the legal basis for those claims at this early stage,of course, but it strikes me that the states at least have a strong claim to make regarding the revocation of authority that has been in place for nearly 50 years and the fact that the Administration does not appear to be following proper procedures in revoking the waiver. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the auto industry appears to be on California’s side in this battle and, earlier this year, signed a deal in which each of the major manufacturers agreed that they would continue complying with California’s standards and join in any legal effort to oppose their revocation. That could prove to be problematic for the Administration in its effort to defend the revocation in Court.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Economics and Business, Environment, Law and the Courts, Politicians, Science & Technology, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    “states’ rights” was always a scam.

    “1968 you can’t say “n*****”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff,…”

    -Lee Atwater

    What’s particularly stupid about this action by Trump is that there is no way it gets resolved legally while Trump is still in office.

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  2. Jon says:

    … it abandons long-standing Republican and conservative beliefs in the Federalism in favor of apparent fealty to the oil and gas industry. Traditionally, Republicans and those on the right have favored the idea of allowing states more authority to set policy in areas that have traditionally been the province of the Federal Government.

    I’m pretty sure that those beliefs were always purely situational. When they need to block national-level efforts to help people they cry federalism, when they want to prevent a state from helping people they change positions. It is outcome-driven, not belief-driven.

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  3. Kit says:

    I’m not really convinced that this is being done for the oil companies, especially as the car companies welcome the tighter regulations. No, this reeks of a nihilism that takes joy in actively destroying the environment, and so seems tailor made to appeal to Trump’s base. Burn it all down!

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  4. JohnMcC says:

    “…(I)t abandons long-standing Republican and conservative beliefs…in fealty to the oil and gas industry.”

    I am amazed that any sentient being can at this moment speak of ‘long standing Republican and conservative beliefs” with a straight face.

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  5. michael reynolds says:

    As @Teve points out, @Doug, you still have not grasped the depth of the con job that is American ‘conservatism.’ States rights was never anything but a cover for racists. Everything else was window dressing. Conservatives don’t believe in federalism, they believe is subjugating minorities so when ‘federalism’ helps them sht on black and brown people they love federalism. When federalism means anything other than shtting on black and brown people their belief in federalism goes right out the window.

    This didn’t just start, this is how it’s always been. There was never some pristine, legitimate American conservatism. It was never anything but a con job. Trump didn’t make them into pigs, he just tore off their masks.

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  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Can we all just admit, now, that Conservatism has never really meant anything at all.
    States rights? See above.
    Fiscal conservatism? Largest non-recession increase in the deficit…ever.
    Strong foreign policy? Trump is giving everything away to Kim and Putin, and taking orders from the Saudi’s.
    Rule of law? That’s just outright laughable.
    Family values? Trump had been married three times and cheated on every single one of his wives.
    The entire fraudulent enterprise has been only to control the bodies of women, and to enrich the already wealthy white men in the country.
    What’s truly amazing to me is that people who have committed their lives to the idea of Conservatism, have just stood idly-by while this has happened. No one is REALLY challenging Trumps complete takeover of the GOP.

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  7. Hal_10000 says:

    @Kit:

    This. Trump is repealing environmental protections that are really uncontroversial. Hell, the CAR COMPANIES are opposing this move against California. It’s almost a deliberate desire to pollute for the sheer bloody hell of it. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s one thing to argue that pollution is a necessary evil for economic prosperity. But this is arguing that pollution itself is a positive good.

    Crazy.

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  8. reid says:

    Let’s not forget the immense value in sticking it to the libtards. California is full of ’em, I hear.

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  9. Kathy says:

    “I have a brilliant idea! No, not brilliant. the most brilliant idea of all time!! People say it’s the best idea they ever heard. I don’t claim it is, but lots of people say it! It’s the best idea anyone’s ever had! Let’s keep the smog and throw out Los Angeles!”

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  10. Jen says:

    This is utter garbage:

    “The only reason the automakers are not on board with Trump is because they’re afraid of the retaliation from California if Trump loses,” Lewis said.

    Car companies are serving an increasingly global market, and many of the countries they are selling cars in are requiring more efficiency. Some are even going all-electric–Volvo, for example, has stated that it is moving *its entire portfolio* to electric. It’s easier and more efficient for them to make cars for a global marketplace if they can standardize the engineering and manufacturing processes.

    This is not being done at the behest of the auto industry, that’s for sure. This is some weird combination of:

    1) Sticking it to the libs!
    2) Something, something Obama
    3) A throwback to conservative business issues from more than a decade ago (along with the incandescent light bulb nonsense of a few weeks ago). These *were* issues that had conservatives riled up, until everyone found out that these advances were actually improvements that saved money.

    Yet another garbage decision from this administration of incompetents.

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  11. Michael Cain says:

    I went back and looked at the Clean Air Act text last night. As I read it, the EPA Administrator has to explain how the California regulations (and/or process) violate one or more of a short list of conditions given in statute. Otherwise, the Administrator must grant the waiver. This is the sort of i-dotting and t-crossing the Trump administration has been bad at, and they have gotten slapped down in court repeatedly because of it. Unfortunately, Wheeler is likely to be better at that sort of thing than Pruitt was.

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  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    The way Trump thinks, this doesn’t have to work for him to win. It just has to look good on Fox News to his base. They love him because he’s a “fighter” and they harbor a deep resentment of California and emission standards. These are the people who build trucks who can spew smoke on command.

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  13. Michael Cain says:

    @Jen:

    Volvo, for example, has stated that it is moving *its entire portfolio* to electric.

    Volkswagen Group has announced they will be shifting their R&D focus from hybrids to full electric, as they believe that’s where the world will end up fairly soon. Apparently even Porsche, who dropped out of LMP1 racing (with their top-rated hybrid drive train) and will join the FIA’s Formula E all-electric class this fall.

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  14. steve says:

    THIS is why conservatives elected Trump. To stick it to the liberals. Trump supporters will love this. There will be no concern about principles, other than the principle that Trump should hurt liberals whenever he can.

    Steve

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  15. gVOR08 says:

    what strikes me about this anticipated move by the Administration the most is the extent to which it abandons long-standing Republican and conservative beliefs in the Federalism

    I keep telling you there are no long-standing conservative beliefs. There is only a conservative psychological disposition.

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    The way Trump thinks, this doesn’t have to work for him to win. It just has to look good on Fox News to his base. They love him because he’s a “fighter” and they harbor a deep resentment of California and emission standards.

    Correct. This is why I’ve come to favor impeachment (at least this week). If Democrats want enthusiastic voters they have to fight. They don’t have to win but they have to fight. In another thread this morning I quoted Jim Hightower, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

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  17. al Ameda says:

    Two dynamics are at work here:
    (1) Trump’s vendetta against California, and
    (2) Trump’s EPA is busy rolling back clean air and clean water regulations.

    California now accounts for about 40% of automobile sales in America; about 2 million vehicles are purchased each year in CA. And, the car makers, here and in Japan and Korea, have long since invested the capital to create cleaner more fuel efficient and low emissions vehicles. It was a very simple business decision – they want to continue to sell vehicles in the biggest automobile sales market in America.

    Anyone who is familiar with air pollution in California, in particular in the LA region, knows that stronger clean air and emission standards have made big difference – pollution levels are lower than they were 3 to 4 decades in the past.

    Trump and his coal industry lobbyist EPA cabinet director are damaging us on so many levels. It would be nice if Democrats knew how to point this out in their regular messaging, right?

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  18. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    It’s kinda interesting. Cali’s air standards are sort of like the Unions.
    Cali’s standards have brought down the emissions levels everywhere…most cars/motorcycles are 50 state compliant, meaning they meet Cali’s standards.
    Unions have upped the wages and benefits of a lot of people, including non-union members.
    Republicans hate both.

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  19. Tyrell says:

    @Hal_10000: I am of the opinion that it would be best for the Federal Government to let the states do what they want. The air is getting cleaner. Some states do not have an auto emissions inspection. The state of Washington is ending theirs because the newer cars run “cleaner”. South Carolina has not had an inspection program.
    Check engine lights usually result in failed inspections, even though the car’s pollution readings are in normal range. The problem is usually a faulty sensor. And there is the vicious circle that I am in. I reset the engine light and then I have to drive the car for a couple of hours to get the computer back up. Then it will pass. A hassle.
    One problem is that the people who come up with the laws and regulations do not know much about cars.
    Years ago General Motors had a Pontiac motor that would get 50 mpg, but they pulled the plug. There have been other prototypes that got high gas mileage.
    There is a car club in CA that is made up of older cars without pollution equipment and they all passed the emissions test. There is a lesson there somewhere. Maybe it is the timing settings.
    My next car will be a ’80 something Ford; straight piped. No inspection required.

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  20. Matt says:

    @Tyrell:

    I reset the engine light and then I have to drive the car for a couple of hours to get the computer back up. Then it will pass. A hassle.

    You know you could of just fixed the problem prior to going for an inspection right? Do you really drive your car while ignoring obvious problems until something physically breaks?

    Of course the car club cars passed because they are older cars that have a different set of requirements to pass than newer cars. Assuming they even have to pass an emission test as classic cars don’t have to….

    My next car will be a ’80 something Ford; straight piped.

    Loud, obnoxious and shitty sounding all in one package how efficient of you.

    I had a 72 nova that came with straight pipes. One of the first things I did was put on a pair of glasspacks because my god straight pipes sound terrible in the vast majority of street cars even one with a tuned V8. Once I got the glasspacks on it the thing ran better got better gas mileage and sounded amazing.. Yes it still was pretty loud but nowhere near what it was before and the tone was vastly better to the ear.

    Tyrell is just expressing the typical street level GOPer. Loud obnoxious and demanding attention…

    EDIT :

    The air is getting cleaner.

    Yes because of the federal government’s CAR and California’s requirements.

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  21. Matt says:

    @Tyrell:

    Years ago General Motors had a Pontiac motor that would get 50 mpg, but they pulled the plug. There have been other prototypes that got high gas mileage.

    You’re probably talking about the Pontiac Firefly which got about 48mpg highway. It was pulled because it only sold in Canada and the middle east because it was ugly as sin and couldn’t generate any interest in the USA as a result.

    Meawhile the geo metro did +50mpg consistently. So did various Honda’s over the last several decades. Hell the Chevy Sprint ER did +45 mpg in town and +53 highway…

    Smokey’s hot vapor engine was unreliable at best in the real world. There were just too many things that had to go perfectly correct for the engine to run properly. One tiny parameter missed by .5% and the engine explodes… His engine was installed in a pontiac fiero if I remember correctly.

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  22. Gustopher says:

    I’m not sure which group of states’ rights people bother me most, the complete frauds, or the ones who actually believe that states have rights and people don’t.

    At least the folks in the latter group are earnest.

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  23. Gustopher says:

    Can’t they just give Texas or Mississippi a waver that lets them set lower standards or even mandatory pollution standards?

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  24. An Interested Party says:

    It’s one thing to argue that pollution is a necessary evil for economic prosperity. But this is arguing that pollution itself is a positive good.

    Crazy.

    A lot crazier than Medicare for All or an assault weapons ban…

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  25. Tyrell says:

    @Matt: Thanks for the commentary.
    I should have stated that it would cost at least $500 to fix according to estimates. The suspect part requires pulling the muffler to get to. It could also be two dozen other things. This is a common problem involving the gas evap system.
    I’m ok with Glass packs or Pacemakers.
    What I would like would be a ’85 Ford T Bird and drop one of the new 429 cu. inch 600 hp mills in it. That would get some attention down at the local drive-in. It would also burn some rubber.

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  26. Nickel Front says:

    directly at odds with the administration’s position on other vital issues — such as gun restrictions and abortion laws — that individual states have the right to set their own rules. “

    Not really.

    Gun and abortion laws in one state don’t really affect other states.
    The CA regs obviously have an effect on other states so there’s the interstate commerce factor to consider as well.

    If you really want states to set their own rules tho, let’s go all the way and abolish the Federal EPA. Let’s go Full Federalism.

    I’ll join you in that fight.

    But you won’t take that step because you just hate Trump.

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