Testimony in First Tailpipe Hearing Lashes Trump's Rollback Plan

(Bloomberg) -- If the Trump Administration was hoping for a favorable audience at the first hearing on its proposal to roll back U.S. car emission standards, it didn’t find one in smoggy Fresno, California.

California officials, environmental advocates, electric car supporters and residents came out to decry an effort that they said would endanger the health and economy of the state. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed freezing fuel efficiency requirements for autos at 37 miles per gallon in 2020, instead of letting them rise to 47 mpg by 2025 under Obama-era regulations. This would cap emission standards, too.

“Our state is about progress and 21st century innovation and technology,’’ California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at the hearing. “It’s not about backsliding into the old way of doing business.’’ That refrain was echoed by speaker after speaker at the hearing Monday.

Federal regulators say easing requirements for cars will keep their costs down and encourage people to trade in old vehicles for new, safer ones -- reducing highway deaths.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols said the administration’s proposal was unnecessary and “riddled with numerous flaws.’’ Nichols said the state plans to press ahead with its efforts to cut down on pollution from automotive tailpipes.

“We will not sit idly by as you propose to flatline our efforts,’’ Nichols said. “We must continue to insist on cars that produce fewer emissions, including millions more zero-emission vehicles.’’

Smoggy Sky

The California leaders’ testimony was met with applause. Speakers often invoked the poor air quality of Fresno and the surrounding San Joaquin Valley as evidence of the need for more stringent regulations. One asked for the doors of the building to be opened so the audience could get a better view of the area’s smoggy afternoon sky. Scores testified against the looser rules, some coming from as far away as Los Angeles and Oakland.

Fresno is the fourth most ozone-polluted city in the U.S., according to the American Lung Association, and in July experienced a record 22 straight days with temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) or above.

Fresno resident Janet Dietzkamei, 73, said she suffers from asthma and spends most of her time inside.

“We want our air to improve,’’ Dietzkamei said during the hearing. “We want to go outside and enjoy our gardens.’’

Respiratory Problems

Dr. Praveen Buddiga, an allergy and asthma physician in Fresno, said he had been seeing an increase in patients with respiratory problems. The unhealthy air means growing risks for heart attacks and other medical problems, he said.

More than a dozen people wearing “Green for All” t-shirts testified, some in Spanish, to talk about how air pollution has led to problems with asthma and other health issues. The speakers are part of the environmental advocacy group founded by Van Jones, a former advisor to President Barack Obama.

Bruce Ratcliffe, 68, a science teacher in Fresno, showed up at the hearing wearing a gas mask he said he needs while biking around Fresno. Ratcliffe broke down in tears during his talk about the increase of asthma rates he’s seen in his school district. ‘

“It really breaks my heart,” he said. “The idea that we would be relaxing regulations on the air is hard to comprehend.”

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