California to Fight 'Unlawful' Trump Fuel Economy Rollback

(Bloomberg) -- California plans to attack the Trump administration proposal to freeze auto fuel economy standards at 2020 levels and unwind the state’s plan for more stringent rules on tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions as “unlawful,” California’s attorney general said Wednesday.

“They are grossly derelict in not trying to move the dial forward in cleaning the air and the environment,” Xavier Becerra said in a conference call with reporters. “The situation continues to get worse and requires action now, and not for us to stand pat,” he said.

Becerra’s comments were a preview of a formal response that California and 18 other states will file with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Friday. That’s the deadline for public comments on the Trump plan.

The agencies on Aug. 2 proposed capping federal fuel economy requirements at a fleet average of 37 miles per gallon starting in 2020. Under existing Obama-era rules, the average would have risen to roughly 47 mpg by 2025. The Trump administration also wants to cap tailpipe carbon dioxide standards. In addition, they want revoke California’s authority to set rules more stringent than the federal government’s and to mandate electric car sales.

Administrative Procedures

The Trump plan violates the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires extensive documentation before an existing regulation can be overturned, and the EPA’s statutory obligation to reduce harmful pollution, Becerra said.

In August, California joined 18 other states and the District of Columbia in promising a lawsuit to block the Trump rollback. Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia have adopted tailpipe emission roles that mirror Sacramento’s. Together with California, they make up about about a third of the U.S. vehicle market.

Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general who joined Becerra on the call, described as “dubious” the Trump administration’s claim that the rollback will save lives.

According to Trump officials, freezing the requirements will slow the pace at which new cars are getting more expensive, and therefore allow people to replace older and less-safe vehicles more rapidly.

“The administration proposal will lead to dirtier air, cause people to pay higher prices at the pump, and increase the cost of climate change,” Madigan said. The impact will be concentrated, she said, in inner-city neighborhoods with heavy traffic. Trump is backing the rollback, she said, “solely for the purpose of taking billions of dollars out of the pockets of consumers, and giving it to Big Oil.”

Madigan said she expects the rollback to be defeated despite the confirmation of conservative jurist Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, since Trump’s defense of it contradicts legal precedents that date back 20 years.

Automakers have said they want to avoid a situation in which they have to build one set of cars for California’s standards and another for the rest of the nation. They also are trying to avoid a drawn-out court fight.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.