California is once again in the Trump administration’s crosshairs, with the EPA proposing to strip the Golden State of its ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and roll back environmental standards, per Bloomberg.
Under the proposal, fuel-economy standards would be frozen at the 2020 level of 35 miles per gallon, significantly less than the Obama administration’s proposed 50 mpg by 2025 standard. California would no longer be able to set its own emissions standards (SB32 required a cut to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030) nor its electric vehicle sales mandate for automakers.
The ironic timing and naming of the Safer and Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles Rule suggests more than a little cognitive dissonance, even by the standards of the Trump administration’s unorthodox (read: at times nonsensical) approach to governance.
Mere weeks ago, the California Air Resources Board announced that greenhouse gas pollution in California had dropped below 1990s levels for the first time, 13 percent below the state’s peak in 2004. Per-capita emissions fell 23 percent, to about half the national average, and carbon pollution emitted per $1 million of gross state product plummeted 38 percent. Perhaps most important, these improvements, which improved public health and could potentially save thousands of lives, were coupled with a 26 percent growth in California’s economy.
California has signaled that it will fight the proposal. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a frequent sparring partner of the administration, tweeted, “We are ready to use every legal tool at our disposal to protect the current vehicle emission standards.”
How the automotive industry will react is less clear. While it has in the past griped about regulatory burdens such as high fuel-economy standards, the EPA’s proposal could lead to a protracted legal battle. Such an uncertain market landscape would be less than ideal for car manufacturers, since California accounts for half of the nation’s electric vehicle sales.
The proposal does have its proponents, particularly among conservatives eager to streamline or reduce regulatory red tape. For example, Steve Milloy, who works with the Heartland Institute, which is critical of climate science, told the L.A. Times, “National fuel economy standards are set by the federal government, so that’s what we are going to do.”
(While one should strive to separate the message from the messenger, it may be difficult to do so considering the Heritage Institute was behind the clever-from-a-marketing-perspective-but-morally-bankrupt-and-quickly-aborted “the Unabomber and Osama bin Laden believe in climate change, therefore you shouldn’t” advertising campaign of yesteryear. Meanwhile, Milloy, a staunch defender of the tobacco industry, had a streak of Trumpian incivility before it was cool; his response to the death of a climate scientist in 1999 was “scratch one junk scientist.”)
All of this is not to say there isn’t room for reasonable, good-faith debate about California’s environmental regulation regime and its effect on the economy and less-affluent residents — but there is a clear difference between debate and tossing out the baby with the bathwater.
This impending legal dust-up between California and the federal government over federalism and states’ rights would be a continuation of this year's debate over sanctuary city policies. It’s a bit of deja vu, with the the Trump administration again trying to bring to heel the Golden State despite evidence of a policy’s efficacy (i.e., sanctuary cities improving public safety or environmental regulations cleaning up the environment).
This development also would seem to confirm fears that, despite the recent resignation of bumbling former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency is not quite ready to return to protecting the environment.