California Pushes Back On Trump Administration Over Emissions Standards

Sep 18, 2019
Originally published on September 18, 2019 5:04 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Trump administration and California are squaring off again. In a series of tweets this morning, President Trump announced he's ending nearly 50 years of precedent. He's revoking California's authority to set its own emissions standards for cars and trucks. The state has long set tougher tailpipe standards than the federal government to help combat air pollution. The move sets up what's likely to be a long legal fight and could derail a years-long effort to produce more fuel-efficient cars.

NPR's Nathan Rott is covering this story. He joins us from our studios in California at NPR West. And, Nate, I just want to start with the reaction from California leaders that we've heard elsewhere in the program. The state's attorney general, Xavier Becerra - that he plans to sue. What else are you hearing?

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Yes. We're hearing a lot of, basically, not happy reaction from people here in California. People here in California - we've known this is coming for a long time. Trump's been threatening it for years as part of a bigger fight between California and this administration over national fuel economy standards. The EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, is rolling back a set of aggressive national standards that were put in place under President Obama, which, essentially, aimed to push automakers to build more fuel-efficient cars. Thing is California really likes those old standards. It helped make them. And it's told the Trump administration that it will use its waiver - the one that Trump now says he's going to revoke - to, essentially, keep them in place here in California and in the 13 other states that followed California's lead. Obviously, the big underlying concern here is climate change. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Here's California Governor Gavin Newsom in an interview with NPR earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GAVIN NEWSOM: The hots are getting hotter. The dries are getting drier. The wets are getting wetter. This is serious. Mother Nature has now joined the conversation. People are waking up to this reality. If you don't address the issue of transportation, you're not serious about addressing the issue of climate change.

CORNISH: But the president's argument is that one state shouldn't have the ability to, essentially, dictate where the rest of the country is going. Give us the history here. How did California get this waiver in the first place?

ROTT: So this waiver has existed since the creation of the Clean Air Act nearly 50 years ago. I mean, remember; California had terrible air pollution in the '60s and '70s - you know, smog that darkened the skies here in LA. It was seen as a public health crisis by Democrats and Republicans, so the state created its own regulations on auto emissions that predated the Clean Air Act. So when national lawmakers were making that act, they decided to, basically, allow California to continue setting its own standards as long as they were tougher than the floor set by the feds. And California's done that ever since.

CORNISH: Now, I want to talk about why the president is making this move now. I mean, you said that this fight's been going on for a long time. So what's going on?

ROTT: Well, the president is in California now raising money for his re-election. And we all know that California and this president never miss a chance to take a jab at one another - fighting over climate change, immigration, homelessness, you name it. The timing also, though, may be related to the legal challenges that everyone knows are coming. I spoke to an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who said that the Trump administration definitely wants to kill this waiver once and for all. So they might be pushing this forward with the hope that these legal fights reach the U.S. Supreme Court sooner than later, given that we have an election coming up.

CORNISH: Now, the auto companies, they - four of them had signed on voluntarily to the California standard. What are they saying now?

ROTT: You know, auto companies here are kind of stuck in the middle. They want one national standard. They don't want to be building cars with one standard in California and another in other states. That's not good for business. But California officials today are also pointing out that the world is moving towards cleaner cars. They're sharply criticizing this move by the Trump administration as a step backwards in an era of climate change and one that stifles innovation here in the U.S.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Nate Rott at NPR West.

Thanks so much.

ROTT: Thank you, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY GUERRERO SONG, "THE LAST MAVERICK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.