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The new fight between the feds and California about fuel economy, explained fast

By Luis Gomez

Reports that officials in the Trump administration are preparing to scrap fuel efficiency standards aimed at making cars burn less gas in The Washington Post and other outletshave prompted yet another warning shot from California leaders who say they will fight it.

On Twitter, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he is “prepared to take whatever action or otherwise, that we must protect our economy, our environment, and the public health of people of California.”

Xavier Becerra


We’re prepared to take whatever action, legal or otherwise, that we must to protect our economy, our environment, and the public health of people of California. 

Details of how the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump will roll back the Obama-era emission standards are expected to be revealed in the coming days, The New York Times reported.

EPA secretary Scott Pruitt is a known climate change skeptic and has publicly questioned the science showing that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.

But the threat of rolling back those emission standards — federal efforts to fight climate change by making automakers manufacture more fuel-efficient cars — has displeased environmental groups and even automakers like Ford Motors.



The EPA is putting the environment and our health at risk by creating a toxic loophole for polluters under the Clean Air Act. This is unacceptable—so we’re taking action. 

Jenell Walsh-Thomas@its_jmwt

Ford’s Executive Chairman & President, & CEO release joint statement supporting strong fuel economy standards: “We support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback.” 

Here’s why it is such a big deal and why this could spell yet another battle between California and the Trump administration:

How will the EPA roll back fuel emission standards?

Details of these plans have not yet been made public, but sources have told The Post and The Times that the EPA is convinced that the fuel-efficiency standards are too high to be met.

Under the Obama-era standards, The Post reports, carmakers must produce cars and light trucks that can average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Currently, 2018 models average 38.3 miles per gallon, the paper noted.

Why is California so concerned about this?

Over the years, a special waiver in the 1970 Clean Air Act has allowed California to set aggressive fuel-emission standards for carmakers and for other states to adopt them. At least 12 other states have borrowed California’s standards, per the Los Angeles Times. Automakers have also folded these standards into their production lines nationwide so as to avoid conflicting standards from one state to another.

The EPA’s action could result in a courtroom clash that may force California to roll back its standards or even neutralize California’s ability to set its own standards. Becerra, the state’s attorney general, told The New York Times in an interview that California would not give up its approach without a legal fight.

“We’re going to defend first and foremost existing federal greenhouse gas standards,” he said. “We’re defending them because they’re good for the entire nation. No one should think it’s easy to undo something that’s been not just good for the country, but good for the planet.”

What would the local impact be?

Cities like San Diego have built federal and California greenhouse gas emission goals into their own climate programs.

San Diego’s Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2016, is a set of policies that aims to cut greenhouse emissions in half and make all electricity used in the city come from renewable sources by 2035. The success of the plan, however, relies heavily on the implementation of federal and state standards.

Without those federal and state standards, cities like San Diego could be left scrambling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as explained by two local journalists on Twitter.

Andrew Keatts@andy_keatts

State and federal GHG reductions are baked into San Diego’s Climate Action Plan. If the Feds produce fewer cuts, we need to make it up. 

One UCLA environmental law professor, Ann Carlson, told the Los Angeles Times that the federal standards are a critical factor in encouraging carmakers to embrace a future with less emissions. If the EPA scraps those standards, California is vowing to fight. And Carlson said “this is going to be a big legal battle.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @RunGomez