Trump Administration cuts off “negotiations” with California over clean air rules

The Trump Administration has broken off negotiations with California over vehicle emission standards and clean air rules. Since before the EPA existed, California has regulated clean air standards, with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) overseeing the process. CARB’s efforts have resulted not only in the rise of electric vehicles, but more recently it was CARB (and EPA) enforcement activities that caught Volkswagen cheating on emissions tests leading to the Dieselgate scandal.

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The Trump Administration is in the process of destroying the Obama-era tightening of CAFE standards, and at the same time is hoping to eliminate state-level emissions standards so that the auto industry has exactly one set of standards to fulfill. At the same time California has, since 1970, enforced its own clean air standards, an effort that began when Los Angeles area residents started noticing how bad their air had become due to diesel/gasoline exhaust. California has a clear rationale for tighter emissions standards — namely the decades of study by CARB scientists into the cause of air pollution — as well as the climate, environmental and health side effects of air pollution — and has long precedence, almost 50 years, of enforcement of clean air regulations by CARB.

States Rights

“States Rights” is one of the principles in USA Politics highly cherished by Conservatives. It is about the freedom of a State in the USA being free to set its own standards and laws to govern its own territory based on the needs of the folks living in that territory. For example a State with an epidemic of overweight people due to drinking too many carbonated beverages could enact a law limiting the amount of sugar in such drinks. In theory.

In case that analogy was too symbolic, try this on for size: California, until CARB started regulating emissions, had an epidemic of bad air pollution and corresponding environmental and health problems. According to a friend who attended CalTech, in Pasadena CA, the air in the Los Angeles basin was so bad that they jokingly referred to the mountains as Hertz Rent-a-Mountains. Pasadena sits at the foot of a very tall mountain range, but the air pollution was so bad that on many days the mountains were not visible.

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Trump Administration SAFE Standards

The Trump Administration is proposing the SAFE standards, which will slow down and weaken federal-level emissions standards. It is expected that when the Trump Administration plan is finalized, it will include a provision to cancel California’s ability to set its own emissions standards. CARB’s standards are used by 14 other USA states that together cover 40% of the automotive market in the USA.

The so-called Negotiations

According to a CNN report, California and Federal regulators have been “negotiating”.

The Trump Administration issued a statement saying: “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 since the SAFE Vehicles Rule was proposed. Accordingly, the Administration is moving forward to finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles.”

Sounds like their idea of negotiations is to demand that California stop doing what is best for California. Knowing the mind-set at CARB, what CARB will have done is to propose that California and other states using CARB regulations be free to continue with these set of regulations. CARB and the other states have a ton of research documenting why these regulations ARE common-sense solutions and DO provide good solutions.

Well … to quibble a little … there’s a couple parts of CARB’s requirements that are not common-sense good solutions, such as CARB’s preferencing of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in earning ZEV credits which has resulted in the hydrogen economy boondoggle. But let’s not divert ourselves down that rabbit hole.

Not surprisingly, the CNN report quotes CARB spokesperson Stanley Young as saying that California and Federal officials have not met since December 19, 2018, and that the meetings were “entirely non-substantive, and discussions never reached the level that could be called ‘negotiations.'” Further, “The administration broke off communications before Christmas and never responded to our suggested areas of compromise — or offered any compromise proposal at all. We concluded at that point that they were never serious about negotiating, and their public comments about California since then seem to underscore that point.”

Reading between the lines, the federal officials were probably demanding and not listening.

The Denver Post reports that Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser filed a legal brief in support of stronger fuel standards. The legal brief was filed in support of a lawsuit launched by California and 17 other states in regards to the Trump Administration to roll back fuel efficiency standards. According to the brief, that effort meant the EPA abruptly and arbitrarily switched out policy directions, and various states (like Colorado) scrambled to study California’s regulations. In Colorado’s case they ended up climbing on board with California.

Bloomberg News reports that Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said California and Federal officials were pretty far apart. “We certainly hope to have a 50-state solution but at the end of the day we have to move forward with regulation,” he said, and that “California is an important player — an important part of this — but this is not a two-sided negotiation for a national standard.”

We should note that Wheeler is “Acting EPA Administrator” because Scott Pruitt proved that some people can be too corrupt for the Trump Administration.

In any case, “not a two sided negotiation” surely means that federal officials are demanding things from California, and are not listening. The Bloomberg article repeatedly says the federal officials are seeking a “50-state proposal”, meaning one standard for the entire country, to strip California of the right to set its own standards, and that their stance is that California shouldn’t be able to dictate automotive standards.

Again, California has 50 years of precedent behind its regulations.

California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols said “That disagreement may turn into a legal disagreement at some point. I think it’s also correct to say that we have some reason to hope that we could possibly reach a resolution, not so much because I think we’re going to change their minds through the force of our arguments, as that the auto industry itself has made it very clear that they don’t want this fight. ”

A Knowledge@Wharton interview with Arthur van Benthem makes the case that the reasoning behind the Trump Administrations plans is extremely flawed. van Benthem along with 11 co-authors wrote a study, “Flawed Analyses of U.S. Auto Fuel Economy Standards,” published in the journal Science, had an executive summary saying: “With the agencies currently in the process of determining whether the rule should be finalized, we describe how the 2018 analysis has fundamental flaws and inconsistencies, is at odds with basic economic theory and empirical studies, is misleading, and does not improve estimates of costs and benefits of fuel economy standards beyond those in the 2016 analysis,” 

In January, Ars Technica noted that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied an appeal challenging California’s ability to set its own low carbon fuel standard. By denying the appeal, the 9th Circuit said California is free to set its own standards. Specifically the opinion said California’s regulation of fuel sales based on lifecycle analysis of carbon emissions did not violate federal commerce rules. The plaintiffs claimed that because fuels brought into California from out of state were penalized, that California was violating federal commerce rules. But this “penalization” was because out-of-state fuel was sourced in coal states which inherently have higher carbon intensity.


Bottom line is that this is about States Rights, meaning the ability of a State to set its own regulationsAccording to Wikipedia, the States Rights concept is actually centered on the ability of a State to establish laws discriminating between folks based on race. For example it quotes Alabama Governor George Wallace in his inauguration speech proclaiming “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”, and then later quipping that he should have said “States’ rights now! States’ rights tomorrow! States’ rights forever!” In general, when Conservatives use the phrase “States Rights” they mean causes like Segregation, Discrimination, the elimination of Same-Sex Marriage.

As many of us have observed, Conservatives are in favor of States Rights for issues they like, and against States Rights for issues they do not like.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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