California girds for battle with EPA over fuel economy

Traffic at the I-10 & I-405 interchange in Los Angeles, California (by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)

Last Friday, California released a 400-page repudiation of the Trump administration’s plan to freeze fuel economy standards and revoke California’s statutory right to set its own limits on vehicle emissions.

The report comes in response to the EPA and NHTSA’s proposed Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles Rule, which would undo fuel-economy increases set in place by the Obama administration to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

California’s statement, released in draft form to the Washington Post last week, calls the SAFER proposal “a contrived solution to justify a predetermined outcome.”

DON’T MISSTrump administration releases proposal to weaken fuel economy, emissions standards

“Finalizing this proposal would worsen air quality for the most vulnerable, waste billions of gallons of gasoline, forfeit our best chance to fight climate change, and result in years of uncertainty in the marketplace,” the statement reads.

Under the SAFER proposal, the EPA and NHTSA agreed that man-made CO2 emissions are causing global warming and that global warming will be detrimental to human health, but they argue that the problem is unavoidable and that stricter fuel economy standards in the U.S. will do little to mitigate it.

The proposal reverses the Obama administration finding that more fuel-efficient cars would save owners money over the course of their use, and says that fuel-saving technology will raise the cost of new cars and keep more consumers driving older models that lack advanced safety features.

California Governor Jerry Brown

California’s response calls those findings “a nihilistic and fatalistic view that future generations will necessarily be subject to a climate in which human civilization as it currently exists is impossible.”

It says the new cost figures do not “reflect reality,” or “pass basic tests of mathematical and statistical rigor.”

In an interview Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown called the proposal “profoundly misguided and dangerous,” and said Trump administration officials “are continuing their war not only on science but on common sense.”

READ THIS: California warns it won’t follow lower EPA fuel economy, emissions rules

Asked for a response to the statement, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told the Washington Post, that he met with California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols and asked her to propose a solution that would bridge the gap between California and federal requirements and give automakers a single set of national fuel economy and emissions standards to meet. He said he’s still waiting.

Separate emissions standards for cars sold in California and 12 other states that follow its laws have long been a thorn in automakers’ sides. In 2009, shortly after taking office—with two of the largest U.S. automakers seeking federal bankruptcy bailouts—President Obama met with automakers, California regulators, the EPA and NHTSA, which has official authority over fuel economy standards, and hammered out an agreement to harmonize the standards.

 CHECK OUT: California and 16 states sue EPA over emissions rules

It brought the emissions and fuel economy standards into closer alignment but left a few discrepancies, such as federal exemptions for aerodynamic aids, as well as California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate.

Shortly after President Trump took office, he met with automakers to hear their concerns about relaxing the rules and ironing out these remaining differences. The SAFER proposal resulting from those talks, effectively undoes the Obama era agreement entirely—along with 50 years of legal precedent.

California calls the SAFER proposal illegal, and has already filed a lawsuit along with more than 16 other states to block it.

With all the legal and Congressional precedent, this promises to be the opening salvo in a very long battle.

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