EPA Could Limit California’s Unique Role in Shaping Air Pollution Rules

Air pollutionThe Trump administration is on the brink of what could prove its most consequential legal battle with the state of California, with EPA chief Scott Pruitt expected this week to take aim at the autonomy that state leaders were given in the 1970 Clean Air Act to establish pollution standards for vehicles that are more far-reaching than the federal government’s. This autonomy is widely credited with the Golden State’s emergence as a world leader in environmental regulation.

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Last week saw confirmation of months of White House and EPA leaks that President Donald Trump would throw out a 2012 Obama administration edict that required average miles per gallon to nearly double to 54.5 for automakers’ fleets of new cars and trucks by 2025. Trump’s skepticism about climate change made him particularly open to the argument from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler that out-of-touch regulators under the previous president were trying to force them to sell vehicles that U.S. consumers didn’t want to buy.

But as The New York Times reported over the weekend, Trump and Pruitt went further than automakers wanted both by rolling back mileage standards more than expected and by signalling their readiness for a court fight over the deference that federal regulators have traditionally shown to the California Air Resources Board.

The Golden State’s problems with smog in the Los Angeles Basin – visible in the 1973 EPA photo shown above – led to the first state law in the U.S. targeting air pollution being adopted in 1947, among many other precedent-setting regulations. The air board continued California’s role as a pioneer in setting vehicle emission standards after it was launched in 1968 under then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. Its vehicle emission and safety rules often end up being copied by Congress and federal regulators and by nations around the world. The state’s present rules are followed by 12 other states, including New York and Pennsylvania – meaning the Golden State dictates what automakers must provide in about one-third of all new cars sold in the U.S. each year.

California’s special status may be only state carve-out in federal law

But with California’s pollution problems beginning to look more like the rest of the nation’s in recent decades, Republicans have increasingly chafed at the idea that CARB and not the EPA should have the dominant policy-making role on vehicle fuel and emissions standards.

An analysis in The Atlantic laid out how unusual the state’s status is:

“California is written into the Clean Air Act by name: At any time, it can ask the EPA administrator for a waiver to restrict tailpipe pollution more stringently than the federal government. If its proposed rules are ‘at least as protective of public health and welfare’ as the EPA’s, then the administrator must grant the waiver.

“This power is reserved alone for California, and it only covers pollution from cars. No other state can ask for a waiver. (In all of federal law, this might be the only time that a specific state is given special authority under such a major statute.)”

The administration of President George W. Bush became the first to challenge California’s special status when it rejected the state’s request to expand its definition of what substances in the atmosphere it could regulate to include non-polluting greenhouse gases. That prompted the filing of a lawsuit in January 2008 by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown that was backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it became moot after Barack Obama succeeded Bush in the White House and the EPA resumed treating California’s proposals with deference.

Over the past 14 months, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed 28 lawsuits against the Trump administration, according to a tally kept by the Washington Post. But even before Becerra began his litigation, Gov. Brown anticipated the upcoming CARB-EPA fight and emphasized its importance. In comments made in December 2016 – a month after Trump’s election – Brown framed the dispute as having consequences for the “survivability of our world” because of the threat posed by global warming.

At an American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, according to a Sacramento Bee account, the governor said, “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight. We’re ready to defend. …. And, if Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite. We’re going to collect that data.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com


  1. R. Frodsham says

    Most of the Sacramento politicians led by Governor Moonbeam (a name he earned in the 70’s) need to be shipped to San Clemente Island and left to their own devices, and get their meddling OUT of the lives of the citizens who have been smart enough to turn California into the seventh largest economy on Earth. They are NOT smarter than we are in knowing how to live our individual lives.

  2. What has it cost the citizens of Kaliforniastan to launch 28 lawsuits against the Feds? Becerra and Moonbeam should be paying for this!!

    • Mr. Pickle says

      Perhaps you should do a Public Records Act (PRA) to Department of Finance, and ASK that your great question is answered. Maybe just last 10 years, then post here. Great Comment! You are RIGHT!

  3. Really??? says

    Amusing, that the Dem’s love Federal intervention when it suits them, but hate it when it goes against them.

    Arizona passes a Fed. Identical emigration law and Obama says no… Fed’s only and he refused to enforce the law of the land. Now Trump says Fed. only for air quality standards and the Dem’s say …. noooooo.

    Make up your minds idiot Dem’s.

  4. Mr. Pickle says

    It is about time somebody is finally taking CARB to task, as this agency is blotted to the max w/ rad green employee’s that have the moniker our way or the highway. Really, emission testing for underarm deodorant? About 99% cleaner air today that when CARB/ARB started, so now reaching out to all kinds of other PUNISHMENT for vehicles in Ca as they push mostly unwanted electric cars that don’t work in rural counties, but are dictated by BIG cities, SF/Alameda/LA, etc. Those cars do NOT sell by merit, only BIG rebates and tax incentives we all pay for. Time for ARB to go away, as is a HUGE financial cost to taxpayers. The self justification for existence is questionable, and “make work” is NOT what the state should be doing. Everything they touch raises costs…. Just look at what they spending from VW settlement in the billions! That money should have gone to the Taxpayers of CA, not some POLITICAL program inside of ARB to shore up questionable programs for Political Gain….. DUMP ARB, as is an EPA program on steroids, as we have Fed EPA, so noting but duplication here that we pay for, and more Ca Worker votes for Dem party. Yes, very ticked off! Just look at their budget for each year, while students go without pencils.

  5. On Judge Jeanine on Fox last week Sam Abed,Escondido’s Mayor, said Jerry Brown and Xavier Becerra were insane. Sam Abed’s right.

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