California sues to keep its rights on emission standards

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

The Golden State is preparing for another legal battle against the Trump administration, this time over car emissions.

By Gabriel Arizon, Editor-in-Chief

California is fighting back against the Trump administration after it removed the state’s right to set its own automobile emissions standards.

This past Friday, the Golden State — along with 22 states, the District of Columbia and the cities of New York and Los Angeles — filed a lawsuit against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after a special waiver, that has allowed it to set its own standards for the past 50 years, was revoked. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a press release that two other courts have upheld the state’s standards and the administration was attempting to justify its viewpoint with previously unsuccessful arguments.

“The Oval Office is really not a place for on-the-job training,” Becerra said. “President Trump should have at least read the instruction manual he inherited when he assumed the presidency, in particular the chapter on respecting the rule of law.”

The move to axe California’s waiver occurred Wednesday through tweets by President Donald Trump, where he said that the decision was to “produce far less expensive cars for the consumer, while at the same time making the cars substantially SAFER.”

However, officials within the EPA raised concerns back in June 2018 that their plan to rollback fuel economy standards from Barack Obama’s tenure was “detrimental to safety, rather than beneficial,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Valley College environmental science professor George Leddy said the motive behind Trump’s decision was “dubious” and “his vengeful obsession with undoing everything Obama did.”

“At no time that I can recall did the automakers go running to Washington seeking regulatory relief from emissions standards,” Leddy said. “I am 64 years old and have never seen a ‘president’ this horribly reckless and destructive to the country, its allies and the planet.”

California’s exemption goes all the way back to the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970. The act gave the EPA the authority to set the car emissions standards for the country to follow to avoid each state setting different regulations. However, according to The Conversation, the state was already setting its own standards, developing the first in the nation in 1966, due to the heavy smog that polluted LA.

In response, Congress granted California an exemption; if the state’s standards were at least as strict as those of the federal level, it would be granted waivers to apply its own regulations. While other states are not granted the same privilege, they are allowed to follow California’s standards. To date, the District of Columbia and 12 states — including Maine, Oregon, Vermont, New Jersey, Delaware, Colorado and Massachusetts — have adopted similar regulations. All the aforementioned states also joined California in its lawsuit.

It remains unclear whether the EPA, which oversees NHTSA, has the right to remove California’s waiver, as the agency has never done so before. However, this is far from the first time the state has taken the Trump administration to court. According to the LA Times, California has filed over 49 lawsuits for a variety of issues, at least 24 of which challenged the EPA, Interior Department and other agencies that set fuel and energy efficiency standards. As of May 2019, the Golden State has won 15 of those suits while the other nine are still pending.

“California won’t bend to the President’s reckless and politically motivated attacks on our clean car waiver,” said Governor Gavin Newsom in the press release. “We’ll hold the line in court to defend our children’s health, save consumers money at the pump and protect our environment.”

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