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EPA poised to roll back fuel efficiency standards, undermining California’s climate goals

The anticipation continues to build as California officials spent another week waiting for the expected rollbacks of vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency standards to come from the Trump Administration—moves that could have serious repercussions for California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

At issue are the 2022-2025 vehicle miles-per-gallon requirements set last summer by the outgoing Obama Administration. The rules raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, up from 27.5 mpg in 2010.

In a separate action, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is widely expected to loosen the emission rules for cars, which have for a number of years been identical to California’s stringent standards. That has been assumed to occur at any time, but Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, told a Sacramento audience this week that although she’s hearing the same rumors, she has no particular insight into what the federal agency might do. “They aren’t asking me.” she said.

So expected was the move that a state senator  introduced a resolution  opposing “any efforts by the current administration and Congress of the United States to deny, rollback, or otherwise undermine the waiver authority.”

But, by the end of the week, the shoe had failed to drop.

The EPA itself has been strangely quiet, although Pruitt on Thursday week confounded scientists around the world when he said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change. “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box. “But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

In fact, there is little debate about carbon dioxide’s role in climate change, as the EPA’s as-yet unpurged website concludes, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt: Carbon Dioxide Not Primary Contributor To Global Warming | Squawk Box | CNBC

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Thursday he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. ” Subscribe to CNBC: http://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBC About CNBC: From ‘Wall Street’ to ‘Main Street’ to award winning original documentaries and Reality TV series, CNBC has you covered.

A group of Democratic senators earlier in the week urged the EPA not to change the emissions rules, saying in a letter, “These automobile emissions standards are economically feasible and technologically achievable for the auto industry.”

Car manufacturers disagree, and have lobbied the Trump Administration to revisit the standards and build in more flexibility.

“America should be putting cars that burn too much gasoline in the rear-view mirror,” said Anna Aurilio, Legislative Director for Environment America.“Unfortunately, EPA’s potential action may be a green light to keep making cars that dirty our air, endanger our health and threaten out children’s future.”

The complicated, litigated process of the interwoven regulations was consolidated under the Obama Administration. Both the EPA and California’s air board set their own greenhouse gas standards, while the U.S Department of Transportation sets the fuel efficiency rules, known as CAFE standards. Taken together, fuel economy and emissions are set out in what’s known as the National Program, which covers vehicle emissions and fuel economy from 2017-2025.

What might be afoot, according to Simon Mui, an analyst with the National Resources Defense Council, is both agencies working in concert to weaken both fuel efficiency and emissions rules at the same time “At that point,” he said, “the California standards would be the one shining star holding things up.”

That’s because the state has the right under the Clean Air Act to set its own emissions standards for new cars if it deems the federal guidelines insufficiently strict. (The law also allows other states to adopt California’s rules, which more than a dozen have done.) To do so, California’s air board must request a waiver from the EPA, which it has done for more than 50 years.

Such waivers have been the bedrock on which much of California’s climate change goals stand and are critical for the state to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals. The state’s emissions from passenger cars and light trucks have been reduced by more than 30 percent since 2009, when California expanded its use of the air quality waiver.

But after Pruitt refused to endorse California’s special waiver privilege, the state has girded itself for this sort of battle with federal officials, having hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to represent it.

Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the state air board, noted that the state has received more than 100 waiver in the last 50 years, adding, “California’s unique ability to set and enforce its own standards on mobile sources is critical for California to protect public health, and has benefitted the nation.”

EPA poised to roll back fuel efficiency standards, undermining California’s climate goals

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The anticipation continues to build as California officials spent another week waiting for the expected rollbacks of vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency standards to come from the Trump Administration—moves that could have serious repercussions for California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

At issue are the 2022-2025 vehicle miles-per-gallon requirements set last summer by the outgoing Obama Administration. The rules raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, up from 27.5 mpg in 2010.

In a separate action, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is widely expected to loosen the emission rules for cars, which have for a number of years been identical to California’s stringent standards. That has been assumed to occur at any time, but Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, told a Sacramento audience this week that although she’s hearing the same rumors, she has no particular insight into what the federal agency might do. “They aren’t asking me.” she said.

So expected was the move that a state senator  introduced a resolution  opposing “any efforts by the current administration and Congress of the United States to deny, rollback, or otherwise undermine the waiver authority.”

But, by the end of the week, the shoe had failed to drop.

The EPA itself has been strangely quiet, although Pruitt on Thursday week confounded scientists around the world when he said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change. “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box. “But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

In fact, there is little debate about carbon dioxide’s role in climate change, as the EPA’s as-yet unpurged website concludes, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt: Carbon Dioxide Not Primary Contributor To Global Warming | Squawk Box | CNBC

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Thursday he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. ” Subscribe to CNBC: http://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBC About CNBC: From ‘Wall Street’ to ‘Main Street’ to award winning original documentaries and Reality TV series, CNBC has you covered.

A group of Democratic senators earlier in the week urged the EPA not to change the emissions rules, saying in a letter, “These automobile emissions standards are economically feasible and technologically achievable for the auto industry.”

Car manufacturers disagree, and have lobbied the Trump Administration to revisit the standards and build in more flexibility.

“America should be putting cars that burn too much gasoline in the rear-view mirror,” said Anna Aurilio, Legislative Director for Environment America.“Unfortunately, EPA’s potential action may be a green light to keep making cars that dirty our air, endanger our health and threaten out children’s future.”

The complicated, litigated process of the interwoven regulations was consolidated under the Obama Administration. Both the EPA and California’s air board set their own greenhouse gas standards, while the U.S Department of Transportation sets the fuel efficiency rules, known as CAFE standards. Taken together, fuel economy and emissions are set out in what’s known as the National Program, which covers vehicle emissions and fuel economy from 2017-2025.

What might be afoot, according to Simon Mui, an analyst with the National Resources Defense Council, is both agencies working in concert to weaken both fuel efficiency and emissions rules at the same time “At that point,” he said, “the California standards would be the one shining star holding things up.”

That’s because the state has the right under the Clean Air Act to set its own emissions standards for new cars if it deems the federal guidelines insufficiently strict. (The law also allows other states to adopt California’s rules, which more than a dozen have done.) To do so, California’s air board must request a waiver from the EPA, which it has done for more than 50 years.

Such waivers have been the bedrock on which much of California’s climate change goals stand and are critical for the state to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals. The state’s emissions from passenger cars and light trucks have been reduced by more than 30 percent since 2009, when California expanded its use of the air quality waiver.

But after Pruitt refused to endorse California’s special waiver privilege, the state has girded itself for this sort of battle with federal officials, having hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to represent it.

Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the state air board, noted that the state has received more than 100 waiver in the last 50 years, adding, “California’s unique ability to set and enforce its own standards on mobile sources is critical for California to protect public health, and has benefitted the nation.”

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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Aug. 16, 2018 11:46 am

Standing Strong for a #FreePress

Publisher and COO

Three years ago our nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization, CALmatters, was founded with a simple mission: to explain how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. We share our coverage of state government with more than 140 news partners big and small across California, who are dedicated to informing their communities.

Every day we work hard to create transparency and understanding in the policy process that allows decision-makers and civically engaged citizens to shape dialogue and encourages a healthy democracy with informed voters.

We put trust at the center of all we do and we deliver fair, accurate, and balanced coverage.

As a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization, CALmatters doesn’t have an editorial board and we can’t and don’t take positions on anything.

But we can and do stand today with the hundreds of news organizations that published editorials supporting freedom of press, as well as our media partners, and others across our state and nation like the Institute for NonProfit News, of which we are a member; veteran journalist and CALmatters board member Gregory Favre whose op-ed we published today; and all of us here at CALmatters, who, like our nation’s founders, believe that a free and independent press is vital to our democracy.   

#FreePress

Sincerely,

Marcia Parker, Publisher

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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Aug. 15, 2018 2:36 pm

McCarthy praises Trump policy over “backwards” California—and is met with protest

Election Reporter
Protesters carry signs that read "Trump Loves 'My Kevin'" and "Kevin McCarthy AKA Trump Puppet!" outside the Sheraton Grand Hotel in downtown Sacramento
Protesters outside the Sheraton Grand Hotel in downtown Sacramento. Photo by Elizabeth Castillo for CALmatters

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy today touted federal policy under the Trump administration, in contrast to what he termed “backwards thinking” coming out of California.

“Once President Trump was elected, it seemed as though California wanted to be in a position to just sue and fight instead of take a pause and listen,” he said.

Speaking at a Sacramento event hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, McCarthy offered a laundry list of reasons why he and his caucus deserve to be reelected this November. He championed the Republican-led federal tax overhaul, which cut personal and corporate taxes across the board last December. He credited those changes to the tax code for the recent round of rosy economic statistics nationwide. He also called for tighter borders and defended the president on trade policy, predicting agreement on the North American Free Trade agreement “probably sometime within the next month.”

In contrast to federal policy, McCarthy slammed the state of California, leading with his criticism of the recent increase in the gas tax. Last year, state lawmakers hiked taxes on gasoline and diesel and introduced two new vehicle fees to fund more than $5 billion in extra transportation spending per year.

“It’s the backwards thinking between what California is doing and what Washington (is doing),” he said. “Washington lets you keep more of your own money.”

McCarthy, whose district includes Bakersfield, is hoping to replace fellow Republican Paul Ryan as the next Speaker of the House. He’s considered the most likely successor—but only if Republicans maintain their House majority after November’s midterms.

He’s also long maintained a cozy relationship with President Trump, who once called the congressman “my Kevin.” As CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall wrote in her profile of the congressman last year, he has served as Congressional Republicans’ Trump-whisperer throughout the president’s tumultuous first term, “charged with shepherding the president’s legislative agenda.”

“No politician has more clout with the Trump White House than he does,” she wrote.

This November, voters will be given the chance to repeal that increase in the gas tax, with its business and labor defenders arguing that it’s necessary to maintain the state’s crumbling roads and highways, but Republicans hoping to channel opposition to boost GOP turnout.

McCarthy also lambasted plans to implement a single-payer health insurance system, either in California or nationwide. He called the state’s vehicle emission standards, which the Trump administration recently challenged, “impossible to reach” and predicted that whoever becomes the next governor of California will be forced to cancel the high-speed rail project, which is now estimated to cost up to $98 billion. Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox has promised to do just that if elected.

The interview was interrupted for several minutes by immigration activists chanting “McCarthy, where’s your heart?”

Angela Hart on Twitter

@GOPLeader being shouted at by protesters. https://t.co/O489U4osyA

After the banner-toting activists were ushered from the room, McCarthy bemoaned what he sees as the demise of civility in our national discourse—an erosion for which many hold Trump responsible.

“Why can’t we sit down and communicate with one another?” McCarthy asked. “Why do we have to be so divided?”

Elizabeth Castillo contributed to this story.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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Two years from now, California voters may have a chance to touch the third rail of state politics.

A coalition of good-government groups, social justice organizations, affordable housing advocates and teachers unions held press conferences across the state today announcing they had submitted signatures for a measure that would significantly increase property taxes on California businesses and generates tens of billions in revenue for local and state governments. If it qualifies for the 2020 ballot—which it likely will—it would mark the first time in decades that voters would have a chance to change a key provision in Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 ballot measure that placed stringent caps on California property taxes, making them some of the lowest in the country for both residential and commercial property.

What would this initiative actually do? 

California treats commercial and residential property almost identically when it comes to taxes.  In most cases, Prop. 13 allows properties to be reassessed for tax purposes only when they are sold to a new buyer. That means that a homeowner and the Target down the street (assuming Target owns that land) pay taxes on the value of the property when they acquired it, not at its current market value. That’s a huge discount for both homeowners and businesses, especially those who bought property a long time ago in a pricey area.

This initiative would treat California commercial property different than residential property, a concept in the Prop 13 wonk world known as “split roll.” Under the proposal, businesses would have their properties reassessed to market values every three years or less. Nothing would change for residential properties—the most untouchable part of Prop. 13. Commercial properties would still be taxed at 1 percent of their value.

Who’s behind it, and what do they want? 

Backers include good-government groups like the League of Women Voters, social justice groups like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and some prominent state and local teachers’ unions. Big money has come from Bay Area philanthropic organizations such as the San Francisco Foundation and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (yes, that Zuckerberg). The California Teachers’ Association, one of the most powerful labor unions in the state, has not endorsed the initiative.

More than anything else, proponents want the revenue that would be generated from “split roll.” Prop. 13 has long been criticized for starving local governments by denying them a steady revenue source. Proponents estimate that altering this part of Prop. 13 would provide $11.4 billion annually for state and local governments, with about $4.5 billion going to schools.

Who opposes it, and why? 

The California business community writ large, including organizations like the California Chamber of Commerce and anti-tax groups like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. They argue that at best, increased property taxes would simply be passed on to consumers, and at worst, businesses would reduce employment or shut their doors entirely and flee to other states. The cost of doing business in California is already high—this would make it even more difficult to squeeze a profit.

This won’t be on the ballot for 2 years—why should I care now? 

Because even though you may not be voting on this until 2020, the political repercussions start now. Changing Prop. 13 is still an uphill fight—one that dissuaded advocates from their initial plan to place the initiative on this fall’s ballot. But the pro-split roll camp can proudly boast that they collected 800,000 signatures, and received a big bankroll to do so. A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that 54 percent of Californians said they would support the measure.  The core of Prop. 13—property tax initiatives for homeowners—is obviously a much tougher fight than targeting commercial properties.

The prospect of split roll on the 2020 ballot could also induce legislative action at the Capitol.  Leading gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom has voiced lukewarm support for the concept, but has repeatedly stated that Prop. 13 reform should be part of a “broader conversation on tax reform in the state.” With both legislators and special interests eager to avoid a costly battle at the ballot box, the initiative could spur action for a broader compromise well before voters get a chance to weigh in.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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