Ryan BeeneMay 8, 2018, 9:00 AM GMT+1
The Trump administration is preparing to battle California’s tough car pollution regulations using an approach that federal courts have already rejected.
Federal regulators are drafting a proposal that takes aim at California’s cherished authority to set its own smog-busting rules. A leaked draft of the plan that is being finalized for submission to the White House shows that it wouldn’t outright revoke the state’s ability to set pollution standards, but it asserts that a 1975 law prohibits states from setting their own limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
“It strikes me as an extraordinarily weak legal argument,” said Ann Carlson, a University of California Los Angeles law professor.
Similar arguments were made by carmakers during the George W. Bush administration, but were rejected by federal judges in California and Vermont in 2007. Those rulings, plus a landmark Supreme Court decision that year that concluded the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide emissions, pose legal obstacles for the Trump administration, Carlson said.
Other legal experts downplay the significance of those apparent obstacles, in part because appellate courts have never ruled on the matter.
“I think it really is very much an open question,” said said Jeff Holmstead, a former assistant EPA administrator during the Bush administration.
The joint proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would weaken the standards negotiated by the Obama administration and the auto industry in 2009 amid taxpayer bailouts of carmakers. Also in 2009, California was granted a Clean Air Act waiver by the EPA to set standards in excess of the federal government’s while agreeing to align its rules with Washington’s.
In 2011, the standards were extended until 2025 to nearly double fleet-wide fuel economy to roughly 50 miles per gallon.
According to a summary of the plan released by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the agencies’ draft proposal recommends freezing the standards from model year 2020 through 2026, setting fuel economy requirements at a 37 mpg fleet average in those years instead of rising each year.