California ‘Comforted’ by Trump Officials After Authority Threat

(Bloomberg) -- The head of the California’s clean air agency doesn’t expect a protracted court fight from President Donald Trump’s proposed challenge to the state’s legal authority to regulate tailpipe emissions.

Trump officials have told the state they’re just seeking public comment on the possibility of challenging the California’s power to write emissions standards that in some cases are tougher than the federal government’s, Mary Nichols, the chair of the California Air Resources Board, said Tuesday in San Francisco.

Automakers have said privately and publicly that they don’t want Trump to provoke an extended court fight with California and they won’t urge the administration to take such a step, Nichols said in a briefing with reporters. These are arguments that mean a lot to lawyers, she said.

“We are comforted by the fact that we don’t think this is a fight that’s actually going to happen,” Nichols said.

California Governor Jerry Brown and Nichols have been bulwarks against the Trump administration’s efforts to walk back efforts to combat climate change. Nichols briefed journalists Tuesday on a Bloomberg Philanthropies report that said federal, state, municipal and business commitments, plus market forces, will drive U.S. emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, roughly two-thirds of the way to the original U.S. target under the Paris Agreement. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the pact in June 2017.

Bloomberg Philanthropies is the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, the majority owner of Bloomberg LP. Bloomberg and Brown established the America’s Pledge initiative in the wake of Trump’s pullout from the Paris deal.

‘Good Faith’

The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month proposed capping federal fuel economy requirements at a fleet average of 37 miles per gallon starting in 2020. Under existing Obama-era mandates, the average would have risen to roughly 47 mpg by 2025. The fuel economy freeze would cap emissions standards, too.

The agencies also proposed revoking California’s authority to regulate tailpipe emissions and to mandate sales of electric cars.

“They have reached out to us several times in a way that indicates a good-faith desire on the part of the administration to make a deal with California,” Nichols said. “And so we feel it’s incumbent on us to have serious conversations about that and that’s what we’re embarking on now.”

The White House and the state released a joint statement after an Aug. 29 meeting that said they agreed to “future meetings to discuss technical, legal and policy issues with the shared goal of achieving one national set of standards for vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions.”

California “will not agree to anything” unless the administration drops its claim that federal fuel economy rules preempt the state’s right to regulate tailpipe emissions, Nichols said. The state also has no intention of negotiating away its right to mandate electric-car sales, she said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.