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Scott Pruitt: California Can’t 'Dictate' National Emissions Policy

Politics

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt had fighting words for California in an interview with Bloomberg News Tuesday, deepening a rift between the Trump administration and the Golden State over the future of Obama-era fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks.

The EPA faces an April 1 deadline to determine if the emissions standards set by the previous administration are achievable from 2022 to 2025. California, which has been granted a waiver by the Clean Air Act of 1970 to set its own, tougher standards, has already said it will stick to the Obama-era regulations. The state is currently in the process of drafting its own standards through 2030.


While Pruitt didn't articulate plans to challenge California's waiver, his remarks expressed annoyance with the powerful role the state plays in negotiating national standards.

"California is not the arbiter of these issues," Pruitt said. He acknowledged the waiver, but added "that shouldn't and can't dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be."

He also put a damper on the one route to compromise California has offered.

In an interview with Bloomberg News in September, chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Mary Nichols said she would be open to reconsidering California's standards through 2025 if the automotive industry and the federal government would agree to tougher standards for 2030.

"The price of getting us to the table is talking about post-2025," Nichols said.

But Pruitt seemed to reject that offer Tuesday, saying the EPA is not "presently" considering extending standards.

"Being predictive about what's going to be taking place out in 2030 is really hard," Pruitt said. "I think it creates problems when you do that too aggressively. That's not something we're terribly focused on right now."

The standards in question were agreed to in 2011 by the auto industry, CARB, the EPA, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They require automobiles to reach an average of more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

The EPA under Obama ruled that the 2022-2025 standards needed no revision, but the Trump administration overturned that ruling.

The automobile industry had lobbied the Trump administration to review the standards, but they also do not want to see California's and the nation's standards diverge, fearing a split would lead to greater expenses, Bloomberg reported.

In an interview with Bloomberg Radio Wednesday, UCLA environmental law professor Ann Carlson said it's likely that the Pruitt EPA will decide to lower standards when it announces its decision in April, while California has already committed to maintaining them.

"Then the big question will be, will they let California do that, or will they try to revoke California's waiver," Carlson said.

Since the EPA has already granted the waiver through 2025, revoking it now would lead California to sue.

Other states like Washington, New York and Oregon, who have chosen to follow California's emissions standards and make up around one third of U.S. vehicle sales overall, could very well join California in court.

But even if the EPA doesn't revoke California's waiver, its decision to lower standards would still put the planet at risk.

"In my view, the auto emissions standards are the most important climate change policy that the Obama administration issued," Carlson said. This is because greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector have actually gone up due to lower gas prices and lobbying by the auto industry to sell SUVs and other large cars.

"If this gets unraveled, we're going to see an even steeper increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector," Carlson said.

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