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Politics

California escalates fight with Trump administration over clean vehicle rules

California officials upped the ante Friday in their fight with President Trump over vehicle fuel economy standards, urging the administration to withdraw its proposal to weaken federal rules and eliminate the state’s ability to set its own greenhouse gas emission guidelines.

“This
is high-stakes poker that’s being played by the federal government,”
said California Atty. Gen. Xavier Beccera, alongside Gov. Jerry Brown
and California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols, at a news
conference overlooking Interstate 5 in Sacramento. “It’s not just the
issue of climate change that’s in the balance. It’s also the health of
the American people.”

Becerra and 20 other state attorneys general across the country filed formal written comments in a letter Friday to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The letter was in response to the federal government’s August proposal to freeze federal vehicle mileage targets and end California’s autonomy to implement more stringent rules.California vows to fight Trump EPA’s move to freeze fuel economy rules »

The
letter contends that the Trump administration’s plan “presents a
significant threat to the health and safety of our citizens and our
environment,” and is illegal under the federal Clean Air Act. Rather
than change the proposal, the coalition of states is asking the
administration to scrap it entirely.

Current
Obama-era federal fuel economy standards call for the nation’s cars and
trucks to average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. California
also has authority to require automakers to sell a specified number of
electric vehicles, a crucial step in the state’s efforts to meet its
goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by
2030.

The
Trump administration plan would instead freeze vehicle mileage targets
in 2020 for six years at around 37 miles per gallon and revoke
California’s ability to set its own vehicle emissions standards, which
13 other states now follow.

Environmental
Protection Agency officials have conceded the proposal would lead to
fewer emissions reductions, but argue that it would not improve vehicle
and highway safety. The agency has also said California’s decades-long
authority to implement emissions rules stronger than those set by the
federal government isn’t justified because greenhouse gases and climate
change don’t affect the state differently than anywhere else in the
country.

“It
is my hope that we can continue to work together and reach one national
standard that will get more Americans into newer, cleaner and safer
vehicles,” Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement
responding to California’s letter.

But
state officials, who had been in discussions with Trump administration
officials before the proposal was issued in August, said there was no
point in making a counteroffer.

“Since
our starting point is that the existing rule should stand, and theirs
is to insist on zero progress, there is no room for a counterproposal
and we will not be presenting one,” Nichols said.

The
state’s actions Friday reflect a continued hard line against Trump’s
efforts to weaken the fuel economy rules and do away with California’s
autonomy under the Clean Air Act.

The
administration’s proposal, officials contend, goes against the
worldwide trend of requiring cleaner-running vehicles to combat climate
change. Automakers had asked Trump to relax the Obama-era fuel
standards, but also don’t want to have a divided market in the United
States. Industry lobbying groups have asked both sides to negotiate.

Becerra said he expected automakers ultimately to side with California.

“I
think the auto industry is recognizing that their future is not with
Donald Trump,” he said. “The future is in taking an approach that solves
the issue of climate change now.”

Brown cast Trump’s actions on fuel economy rules as part of a larger effort to attack global action to prevent climate change and nuclear proliferation. He cited Trump’s decision to withdraw from the worldwide Paris climate accords and his plans to unravel nuclear arms treaties as well.

“This
man is a one-man demolition derby,” Brown said of Trump. “He’s
destroying the Paris agreement. He’s destroying the nuclear safeguards
agreement. And now he’s destroying standards on vehicle emissions. It’s
crazy. It will not stand.”

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