California Air Board thumbs nose at Trump administration, vows to stay the course on car emissions

Saying ‘a deal is a deal” the California Air Resources Board voted today to endorse the stringent automobile emissions standards hammered out with federal agencies five years ago, vowing to go to court if the Environmental Protection Agency follows through on a threat to undo the regulations—and then blocks the state from setting its own standards.

In a unanimous vote in a public meeting at Riverside, the board used strong language to send a message to Washington that California will resist any effort to rollback fuel economy and emissions standards. The move does not change the status quo, but affirms once again that the Golden State is not prepared to accept backsliding on emissions agreements and will, if necessary, pursue a waiver to go its own way.

The hours-long meeting was civil but pointed, with air board commissioners flatly telling the representatives of the auto industry that they made a big mistake in lobbying the Trump administration to revisit an agreement reached in 2011 that set nationwide emissions standards and raised the average fuel efficiency of cars to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

“What were you thinking when you threw yourselves upon the mercy of the Trump administration to try to solve your problems?” chided Mary Nichols, board chair.

Another board member grew animated, wondering aloud why a midterm review of the deal was necessary, saying nothing had changed.

“To me a midterm review is an off ramp opportunity,” said Hector De La Torre. “It’s turned out pretty damn well. There is no damn off ramp. Why would we take the off ramp? This is the right way to go, to stay on track here.”

He then echoed what numerous California officials had said regarding the state’s willingness to fight the Trump Administration in court to preserve air quality targets.

“If a divorce is going to happen at some point, we are going to litigate that divorce strongly,” De La Torre said. “When your parents are fighting, you can see which one has their act together and which one doesn’t. A deal is a deal. There were three parties at that table back in 2012, we are going to continue to exercise our authority under that deal until WE decide that deal is no longer valid.”

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.

The Trump administration says it will re-evaluate the standards over the next year. The president has maintained that environmental regulations are hampering U.S. automakers and costing American jobs. John Bozzella, who represents an industry trade group, has urged California to stay in line with federal standards. “There is more effective way forward than regulatory systems that are different,” he said.

But the strict guidelines are a critical part of California’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thus worth fighting for.

“If Washington continues down this road,” Gov Brown wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, “California will take the necessary actions to preserve current standards and protect the health of our people and the stability of our climate.”

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