California Sues Trump Administration Over Vehicle Emission Standards

California Gov. Jerry Brown / Getty Images
May 1, 2018

Gov. Jerry Brown (D., Calif.) declared Tuesday that California would lead the fight to prevent the Trump administration from rolling back Obama-era fuel efficiency and vehicle emission standards.

Brown, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D.), and the California Air Resources Board announced they, along with 17 other states, were filing a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to scrap the single-vehicle emission standard, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Brown framed the decision to sue the Trump administration in terms of "140 million" Americans banding together to fight climate change.

"The states joining today’s lawsuit represent 140 million people who simply want cleaner and more efficient cars," Brown said in a statement. "This phalanx of states will defend the nation’s clean car standards to boost gas mileage and curb toxic air pollution.

The suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, comes on the heels of an April announcement by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that his agency would revise the nationwide fuel economy standards because they were too stringent.

Becerra said the Obama-era emission standards were working and the country couldn't afford to scrap them now.

"The evidence is irrefutable: today’s clean car standards are achievable, science-based and a boon for hardworking American families. But the EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt refuse to do their job and enforce these standards," Becerra said. "Enough is enough. We’re not looking to pick a fight with the Trump Administration, but when the stakes are this high for our families’ health and our economic prosperity, we have a responsibility to do what is necessary to defend them."

The crux of the lawsuit is that the EPA acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" when choosing to revise the standards, thereby failing to "to follow its own regulations" and violating "the Clean Air Act."

The vehicle emission standard that California and the other jurisdictions are attempting to keep in place was a hallmark achievement of the Obama administration's effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Starting in 2010, the EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the California Resources Board worked together to craft a uniform nationwide economy standard for vehicles manufactured between 2012 and 2025.

In 2012, those efforts culminated in the Obama administration negotiating strict fuel efficiency standards between environmentalists, the auto industry, and labor unions. The finalized agreement required automakers to design and manufacture vehicles with an average fuel efficiency standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, doubling the average of vehicles manufactured in 2008.

Since being implemented, the fuel efficiency standards have been criticized by the auto industry for being too aggressive. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade association representing General Motors, Toyota, and Volkswagen, amongst others, has claimed the Obama administration underestimated the cost of technologies needed to meet the 2025 requirements, especially as Americans shift towards buying more trucks and SUVs.

The shift in consumer behavior to favor trucks and SUVs forced the Obama administration to revise down its 2025 target to 51.4 miles.

Pruitt echoed the concern of automakers when he announced his agency, in coordination with the NHTSA, would rewrite emission standards for vehicles produced between 2022 and 2025.

California is joined in the lawsuit by Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

The 18 jurisdictions total about "43 percent of the U.S. automobile market and approximately 140 million people," according to Brown's statement.

California's suit is only the latest altercation between Brown and President Donald Trump, and in recent weeks, the two men have stepped up their criticism of one another. They've audibly sparred over sanctuary cities, the decennial census, California's plans for high-speed rail, and border enforcement, amongst other issues.

Tuesday's announcement marks the 10th lawsuit California has filed against the EPA and the state's 32nd overall filed against the federal government since Trump took office, according to Bloomberg.