Imagine making it one of the defining points of your time in office as president of the United States to fight for the “right” of auto manufacturers to pollute the environment. That’s what the Trump administration is doing this week with a new letter they sent the state of California claiming that a deal they’ve struck with car manufacturers to rein in the emissions of automobiles sold there could violate federal law. The Trump team — represented in this instance by the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department — claim that the waiver the state has under the Clean Air Act to set their own standards doesn’t extend all the way to this. Their idea is that only the federal government (meaning they themselves) should have this power.
The chief counsels for the Trump administration agencies in question claimed to the head of the California Air and Resources Board (CARB):
‘The purpose of this letter is to put California on notice that this framework agreement appears to be inconsistent with federal law… Congress has squarely vested the authority to set fuel economy standards for new motor vehicles, and nationwide standards for [greenhouse gas] vehicle emissions, with the federal government, not with California or any other state.’
The office of California Governor Gavin Newsom — who’s sparred with the president plenty already, even though he’s been in office for under a year — shared in response:
‘The Trump Administration has been attempting and failing to bully car companies for months now. We remain undeterred. California stands up to bullies and will keep fighting for stronger clean car protections that protect the health and safety of our children and families.’
Newsom’s denunciation of Trump’s team as “bullies” is on-point, considering how just last month, Trump posted as part of an angry Twitter screed:
‘Henry Ford would be very disappointed if he saw his modern-day descendants wanting to build a much more expensive car, that is far less safe and doesn’t work as well, because execs don’t want to fight California regulators.’
The agreement that has the Trump administration up in arms was announced in July and is with carmakers including BMW, Ford, Volkswagen, and Honda. Concurrent to this deal, the Trump administration has been working on a separate front to weaken car emissions standards across the entire United States — although already, more than a dozen other states have implemented some version of California’s own strict standards, and challenges to Trump attempts to roll that back are no doubt essentially lined up and ready to go.
The Trump administration has faced such challenges to their similar plans plenty of times already. Their efforts to roll back environmental protection have ranged from trying to end the so-called Waters of the United States rule that broadens federal authority to manage pollutants to announcing plans for a complete withdrawal from the monumental Paris Climate Accord, an agreement to curb emissions signed by essentially every other country on the planet. Trump seems willing to sacrifice a wild lot for his ego.
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