California

California files its 60th lawsuit against Trump. This time: Protecting state’s clean-car rules

California and 22 other states sued the Trump administration Friday over the federal government’s revocation of California’s authority to impose stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

The suit came a day after federal officials formally revoked California’s powers under the federal Clean Air Act. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and other state officials had vowed to challenge the decision in court.

Besides 22 other states, the cities of Los Angeles and New York and the District of Columbia joined California in the lawsuit.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., marks the 60th lawsuit by California officials against President Donald Trump’s administration, and state officials expressed confidence they can overturn the decision. They said there’s nothing in the Clean Air Act that allows the federal government to revoke the state’s authority once it’s been granted.

“The Oval Office is really not a place for on-the-job training,” Becerra said in a statement. “President Trump should have at least read the instruction manual he inherited when he assumed the presidency, in particular the chapter on respecting the rule of law. Mr. President, we’ll see you in court.”

California and the Trump administration have been feuding for two years over climate change and restrictions on autos’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The state made a deal with the Obama administration that would cut carbon emissions from cars by about 30 percent by 2025. After the Trump administration said it would roll back those standards, the state said it would move ahead with its own regulations — citing a waiver granted by the Obama administration under the Clean Air Act.

That law, signed by Richard Nixon, gives California the authority to impose stricter air pollution regulations than the federal government, as long as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants a waiver.

Upping the ante, Newsom announced a deal in July with four automakers — Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen — in which the manufacturers pledged to abide by the standards established during the Obama administration. The deal does represent a compromise; it gives the companies an extra year, to 2026, to meet the emissions targets. Newsom predicted other automakers would join in, creating a bandwagon effect against Trump.

The Trump administration then launched a multi-pronged attack on those agreements. Earlier this month the Justice Department began an antitrust investigation against the four car makers, and so far no other companies have signed onto the California compromise.

And on Thursday his administration said it was revoking California’s authority under the Clean Air Act.

The federal government has never before revoked a waiver once it’s been granted. But the Trump administration argues that California is violating a long-held principle that only the U.S. government can regulate automobile fuel mileage standards.. As a practical matter, building lighter cars with better mileage is the most effective way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions; the California plan would hike average mileage from about 35 mpg to 50 mpg.

Trump’s aides also argue that California’s plan will hurt consumers because new car prices will rise an average of $2,300. Many consumers will stick with their older, more accident-prone cars as a result, they say.

California officials, however, say those higher costs will be more than offset by huge savings on fuel purchases over the life of the new vehicle.

By revoking the waiver, the federal government has also undercut California’s ability to enforce its clean-car mandates, which require automakers to double the number of electric vehicles and other clean cars in the state 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.
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