White House Told EPA to Ready California Autos Challenge in 2017

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump was mulling a move to revoke California’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks during his earliest days in office, an email released through a public-records request shows.

In early February 2017, Environmental Protection Agency transition official David Schnare emailed EPA attorney Kevin Minoli to relay instructions from a White House aide: Prepare for an executive order “in the near future” directing the agency to reconsider Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards and revoke California’s waiver allowing it to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump never ordered the second half of that directive, instead announcing in March 2017 that his administration would take a second look at fuel efficiency standards enacted by the Obama administration, while avoiding the California waiver issue.

Schnare’s email, sent two weeks after Trump met with the chief executives of General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, was released through a public-records request by the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group. It shows that revoking California’s unique power to regulate the efficiency of cars and light trucks was on the mind of White House officials early in Trump’s presidency.

“This message underscores that the administration has been driving to roll back these standards and attack state leadership from the beginning,” said Martha Roberts, senior attorney at the environmental group. “It’s another sign that the administration’s decision to weaken this win-win policy is driven by politics and not by evidence or facts.”

EPA and White House representatives didn’t immediately return emails seeking comment on Friday.

State Resistance

California has positioned itself as a bulwark against Trump’s efforts to slash environmental regulations. The EPA granted California a Clean Air Act waiver in 2009 to set more rigid pollution standards than the federal government’s while the state agreed to align those rules with Washington’s.

Because of the waiver, the state could opt to keep its standards in spite of a federal rollback. Since a dozen states tie their emissions standards to California, the Trump administration weakening U.S. rules would create a patchwork of regulations across the country -- a nightmare for automakers.

EPA officials have downplayed the odds of revoking California’s waiver, with agency Administrator Scott Pruitt telling a House oversight panel in April that it had no plans “at present” to take the step.

But that stance appears to be changing. Proposals to ease fuel efficiency standards, which were submitted to the White House for review on Wednesday, call for revoking the California waiver, according to a person familiar with the matter.

In early April, Pruitt ruled that the Obama-era auto standards were too aggressive and must be revised. California last month sued to block the ruling in a move joined by several other states.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.