In summary

It’s looking like the Trump administration has decided to sidestep a pollution fight with California over the state’s power to set more stringent vehicle emission standards than the federal government. EPA chief Scott Pruitt said late last week that the Trump administration was not reviewing the California waiver, and hailed the state’s “leadership” on clean air.

It’s looking like the Trump administration has decided to sidestep a pollution fight with California over the state’s power to set more stringent vehicle emission standards than the federal government.

Environmentalists and state officials had worried that the federal Environmental Protection Agency would try to yank back the waivers that have given the state unique authority to enact its own rules—waivers that have for decades have enabled California to reduce smog and climate-cooking greenhouse gases—after EPA chief Scott Pruitt refused to commit to continuing the waivers.

Smog-fueling traffic in the Newhall Pass. Photo by Jeff Newhall via Flickr

But late last week, Pruitt not only declared that the Trump administration was not reviewing the California waiver, but told a House hearing that the waiver existed “because of the leadership California demonstrated.”

Bill Magavern, policy director for the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Clean Air, described Pruitt’s testimony to the Los Angeles Times as “a rare bit of good news out of the Trump administration.”

Brief history, however, has taught that there’s little certainty with the Trump administration. On Monday, Myron Ebell, of the Libertarian-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute, made a forceful case that California’s waiver should be revoked.

Ebell, who crafted the Trump transition team’s environmental policy direction, told a group of reporters in Washington, D.C. that the state’s interest in controlling vehicle emissions is a thinly-veiled attempt to regulate fuel economy.

“States are pre-empted from regulating fuel efficiency,” Ebell said. “The waiver is illegal. California is trying to impose its polices on the rest of the country. The waiver has to go.”

Ebell, who said he does not speak for the President, nonetheless predicted that the Trump administration’s goal is to dismantle the entirety of Obama’s climate change policies.

While the Trump administration has signaled that it may backpedal on the Obama administration’s fuel mileage standards—which President Trump has complained are unfair to automakers—California is vowing to stick with them.

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Julie Cart joined CalMatters as a projects and environment reporter in 2016 after a long career at the Los Angeles Times, where she held many positions: sportswriter, national correspondent and environment...