As we’ve been covering for awhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency has been threatening to yank California’s ability to set its own emissions standards. California and many other states have a long-standing precedent to set emissions standards and other environmental regulations. Under the Trump Administration everything that threatens the fossil fuel industry is under attack, with California’s emissions standards being a primary target since many US States also use those standards. It is due to those standards that the renaissance of electric vehicles in the USA was started.
In a filing in September 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency filed an action in the Federal Register that withdrew California’s waiver. That sounds like obscure-dry-boring bureaucrateze but, if this rule change becomes actual fact, this will extremely degrade the efforts to make headway on solving for climate change and other environmental damage.
Long before the Environmental Protection Agency existed, Californians (primarily in Los Angeles) rose up in anger at how horrible their air was. The air in the Los Angeles Basin today is pretty bad, but what we hear of conditions in the 1960’s is much worse. For example the inability to see 10,000 foot tall mountains that are just five miles away. As a result California began the process of studying air pollution, smog, the causes, and the remedies. When the Environmental Protection Agency was created, California already had a head start in this work and was granted a waiver under which the State could set its own clean air rules.
Withdrawing that waiver means that California, and the other states using California’s rules, must now follow Federal clean air rules. The reason California and those states set their own clean air rules is that Federal rules are not good enough.
According to CalMatters the California Air Resources Board has a number of questions about what this actually means. For which car model years will the eliminated waiver begin to affect? The 2021 model year? CalMatters quotes Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, as describing this as a “speed bump” that could turn into something much bigger.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and a multi-state coalition of State and City governments filed a lawsuit in November 2019 against the EPA and the NHTSA. The Center for Biological Diversity, and surely other organizations too, have announced their own lawsuits. Corresponding press releases appear below this.
Infuriatingly, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent a letter in September 2019 to the California Air Resources Board threatening actions over what he described as California’s failure “to carry out its most basic tasks under the Clean Air Act.” The result of those actions include sanctions on highway funding in California, and other bureaucratic attacks on California.
Since the 1970s, California has failed to carry out its most basic tasks under the Clean Air Act. California has the worst air quality in the United States, with 82 nonattainment areas and 34 million people living in areas that do not meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards – more than twice as many people as any other state in the country. As evidenced by the EPA’s recent work on interstate air pollution issues as well as analysis accompanying its rulemakings, California’s chronic air quality problems are not the result of cross-state air pollution or this Administration’s regulatory reform efforts.EPA Administrator Wheeler
Um… since the 1970’s California has been leading the nation in implementing and research into clean air, and as a result air quality has improved over the years. But this is the era of the Trump Administration in which what used to be called Black is now White.
In a separate letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Administrator Wheeler made further threats of action against California. He noted several problems with California’s environmental practices in a tone that reminds me of a police officer carefully going over my car to find all the possible violations.
According to E&E News, California Senator Dianne Feinstein has called on the EPA’s Office of Inspector General to investigate whether “inappropriate political interference” is at play.
“I am concerned that California is being unfairly targeted, and that this issue of backlogged state implementation plans is nothing more than a pretext to attack California, rather than a good-faith effort to help improve California’s air quality,” Feinstein said.
Attorney General Becerra Files Lawsuit Against EPA for Attacking California’s Advanced Clean Car Standards
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today led a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) attempt to revoke the portions of a waiver it granted California in 2013 that permit the state to implement its greenhouse gas (GHG) and zero emission vehicle (ZEV) standards. The action, filed in the D.C. Circuit, is part of the state’s ongoing fight to protect California’s Advanced Clean Car Standards. These standards are followed, in whole or in part, by 13 other states and are a key part of state efforts to protect public health and the environment.
“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: California will not back down when it comes to protecting our people, our health, and our environment from preventable pollution,” said Attorney General Becerra. “California’s Clean Car Standards are achievable. They not only work, many other states around the country have chosen to adopt them. The Trump Administration, on the other hand, has chosen to side with polluters. We believe we’re on the right side of history.”
“The Trump Administration continues to weaponize federal agencies in his war against public health and clean air,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom, a named plaintiff in this lawsuit. “California won’t back down – we, along with major automakers who voluntarily signed onto our framework, know that the future is clean cars. There’s no time to waste and we’ll continue to fight to defend our state’s rights to set our own standards.”
“Today’s action marks a new chapter in CARB’s long battle to clean the air Californians breathe,” said California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols. “We will be asking the court to declare that our right to demand cleaner cars and trucks is protected under the federal Clean Air Act and cannot be taken away by the Trump Administration simply because they don’t believe in the science of climate change — or because they want to punish us for taking action. For over 50 years, we have used our authority to push the auto manufacturers to build cleaner cars, using state of the art technology. We are not about to be turned around by these bullies.”
“Angelenos’ health is at stake. That’s why we’ve joined Attorney General Becerra and others in fighting the Administration’s unlawful attack on California’s efforts to clean up our air,” said Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer. “Our residents know the devastating impact of pollution from cars on their well-being, and they’re incredulous that the President would try to roll back standards that protect them.”
Today’s filing also includes a protective petition that asks the D.C. Circuit to review a separate regulation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) designed to preempt California’s GHG and ZEV standards. On September 20, 2019, Attorney General Becerra, along with California Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Air Resources Board, and a coalition of 24 attorneys general and three cities, filed a lawsuit in the district court in Washington, D.C. alleging that NHTSA’s preemption regulation is unlawful and should be vacated. The federal government has moved to dismiss that case on the grounds that it belongs in D.C. Circuit Court, and briefing is ongoing. While California’s coalition maintains that the district court has jurisdiction in this challenge, in the event the court disagrees, the protective portion of today’s petition preserves the coalition’s ability to challenge NHTSA’s preemption regulation.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, California may obtain a waiver from EPA to set its own vehicle emissions standards that are at least as protective as the federal government’s standards. Under certain conditions, other states have the option to adopt California’s standards. Congress granted California this option for several reasons, including: California’s historical leadership in vehicle emissions regulation; California’s need to address the extraordinary and compelling air pollution issues affecting the state; and the benefits the nation accrues from allowing California and willing states to foster advances in reducing pollution from vehicles. Over the past 50 years, the EPA has granted more than 100 waivers for California standards. Thanks to those standards, the state has reduced emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons annually, encouraged the development of emission controls technologies, and contributed to stronger federal standards, all as Congress intended.
In January 2012, California adopted its comprehensive Advanced Clean Cars Program for cars and light duty trucks for model years 2017 through 2025. The program combines the control of smog-causing pollutants and GHG emissions into a single coordinated package. The program improves air quality and curbs GHG while saving drivers money at the pump. When accounting for emissions savings from other states that have adopted California’s standards, these emission reductions nearly triple.
Joining Attorney General Becerra in today’s filing are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia; as well as the cities of Los Angeles and New York.
A copy of the filing is available here.
Lawsuit Launched Against Trump’s EPA for Failing to Enforce Smog Rules in California
OAKLAND, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Environmental Health filed a formal notice today of their intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ensure that parts of California have effective plans to reduce dangerous smog pollution.
Areas affected by the Trump EPA’s enforcement failures in California include Kern County, which is home to some of the worst air quality in the nation, as well as Mendocino County and the northern Sierras.
The legal action comes in the wake of what Californian officials say are grossly inaccurate assertions in recent months by the Trump administration claiming California is failing to properly implement the Clean Air Act and other environmental statutes. In fact it is Trump’s EPA that has failed to enforce laws requiring adequate local plans for reducing smog.
“If Trump’s EPA cared at all about the health of Californians, it would be doing its job to make sure legally required smog reduction plans are in place,” said Robert Ukeiley, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sadly this administration is much more concerned about politically smearing California than lifting a finger to help protect the health of its residents.”
People exposed to excess ground-level ozone, the main pollutant in smog, can experience reduced lung function, increased respiratory problems like asthma attacks, increased visits to emergency rooms, and even premature death.
Ozone pollution in the regions of California affected by the agency’s enforcement failures also threatens Carrizo Plain National Monument, known for its annual wildflower bloom, and the Los Padres, Sequoia and Tahoe national forests. Worsening smog pollution also imperils endangered species like the California condor.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 13 people (25 million Americans) suffer from asthma. In 2013 children missed 13.8 million school days because of asthma — the leading reason for children’s missed school days in the United States.
“Every additional day of delay puts more Americans at risk for pollution-related diseases and death,” said Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. “We’re going to hold the Trump administration’s feet to the fire until it prioritizes healthy, clean air for all.”
An EPA study found that between 1990 and 2010, Clean Air Act programs to reduce pollutants like ozone have prevented more than 160,000 deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, and 1.7 million asthma attacks in 2010 alone. For every dollar spent, Americans have received $30 in economic benefits in return.
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