Trump’s EPA halts talks with Gavin Newsom administration on clean cars, climate change

The Trump administration Thursday broke off negotiations with California over limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, blaming state officials for failing to offer “a productive alternative” to the White House’s plans.

The decision, which has been looming for months, intensifies the rift between California and the Trump administration over climate change and carbon emissions. It also comes as President Donald Trump and Gov. Gavin Newsom ramp up their disputes in the past few days over border security and the state’s struggling high-speed rail project.

Last August, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency said it plans to relax carbon-emission tailpipe standards imposed during the Obama administration — and force California to go along with the looser regulations. That represented a direct threat to California’s special legal authority, embodied in the federal Clean Air Act, to forge tougher pollution standards on its own. Tailpipe emissions represent 28 percent of all greenhouse gases, according to data from the California Air Resources Board.

California has vowed to challenge the decision in court, but also agreed to negotiate a compromise with the Trump administration. Those talks officially ended Thursday.

“Despite the administration’s best efforts to reach a common-sense solution, it is time to acknowledge that CARB has failed to put forward a productive alternative” to the Trump regulations, the White House said in a prepared statement. “Accordingly, the administration is moving forward to finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles.”

It was state officials who complained for months that the EPA wasn’t taking the negotiations seriously.

“They do not see us as a partner or a collaborator in this process,” Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the Air Resources Board, told The Sacramento Bee last September.

Newsom said on twitter that Trump’s decision is “a reckless political stunt that puts the health of MILLIONS of kids, families, and communities across America at risk.”

The dispute almost certainly will be decided in court. Nichols said Trump’s decision “is a signal to us to stand our ground and resolutely defend standards that clean the air we breathe, fight climate change and provide certainty to carmakers.”

The issue will almost certainly be decided in court.

A decade ago, California and the Obama administration reached a compromise on a set of climate change rules that would gradually raise fuel economy and reduce carbon emissions from cars. In the latest phase, tailpipe emissions would need to fall by roughly one-third over seven years and fuel economy would jump from an average of 35 miles per gallon to 54 mpg. As a practical matter, the best way of reducing carbon emissions is by selling lighter cars that get better gas mileage.

Under the Trump plan, greenhouse gas emissions would fall only slightly, and fuel mileage would grow to only 37 mpg.

Even as it compromised with California, Obama’s EPA recognized California’s special legal authority under the Clean Air Act to impose tougher rules. The law gives California that right, but only if the EPA grants permission. Last August, in announcing the relaxation of the national rules, the EPA said it planned to revoke the right granted to California by the Obama administration.

The Trump administration has argued that the more stringent rules would increase average new-car prices by $1,850. California officials say the greener cars would pay for themselves over time because motorists would save so much on fuel.

By revoking California’s rule-making authority, Trump is also planning to roll back the state’s “advanced clean car” regulations. Those rules require automakers to roughly double the number of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles sold in California by 2025.

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Dale Kasler covers climate change, the environment, economics and the convoluted world of California water. He also covers major enterprise stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. He joined The Bee in 1996 from the Des Moines Register and graduated from Northwestern University.